Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Sun, Sea, Surf & Grandma

In a few hours time I'll be heading off to Pangkor Island to visit my maternal grandma, whom I've not met in ages. Hopefully I'll add get a tan too.

This will probably be my last holiday for at least nine months.

I won't be back till the 31st, so enjoy the rest of the year everyone, and Happy New Year 2010!

Algy

Monday, 28 December 2009

EMP's A Light In KL City

I watched the Electric Minds Project's "A Light In KL City" at Pentas 2 KLPAC last night with the Sister and a bunch of our friends (and one of their mothers too!). I have to say that it was an enjoyable night out and everyone else I went with had a good time.

The play was a collaborative piece by a huge bunch of writers from EMP, and was directed by Rey Buono with lyrics and music by Erna Mahyuni and Mia Palencia. It's set inside the small, run down Cahaya Inn on Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and centers on the people who live there. Act 1 introduces the varied denizens of the crumbling hotel (soon to be demolished and renovated) and their interactions with each other. The usual suspects are there: prostitutes, an amah and ah pek and a foreign worker, plus a few other oddballs. Act 2, however, turns to the past, when Cahaya Inn just opened, and progresses to link the past surrounding the inn (and the country) with the present state of affairs amongst the characters, as they wait for their beloved home to come under the bulldozers.

I have to admit that there were parts of the play I found difficult to digest. While the first half was full of hilarious situational comedy and lovable characters which had the audience in stitches, the second half took a different and unexpected angle and story-telling method. It had quite a bit of political friction from the tense situation in 1950's Malaya (the subtext of course being a commentary on contemporary Malaysian politics) which I found odd because the first act's focus was squarely on the present state of Kuala Lumpur's less fortunate city folk. It was definitely ambitious and I'm still glad EMP tried it, but I am unsure if the play fully succeeded in linking the past to the present through the stories behind Cahaya Inn.

Nonetheless, I can happily say that anyone, after watching the play, can attest that there is really no truth in the accusations that theatre is irrelevant to the average Malaysian, that is is inaccessible or high-brow and that it is unrealistic or elitist in its portrayal of society. The play was completely accessible in its plot and themes; any audience member can relate to the issues touched upon and reflect upon them and how they apply to his/her life. I found the use of language (and languages) by the characters a joyous reflection of Malaysian voices, from the shameless flattery of the  feng shui master to the unbridled Cantonese of the young prossie, and from the shy English of the Indian immigrant to the nostalgic Malay and English of yesteryear in Act 2, where every vowel and consonant was pronounced and enunciated sharply. Perrrgi ahbang, perrgi!

All in all, another wonderful night at the theatre. Congratulations EMP and all the best for 2010!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Bring It On 2010!

It may be the antidepressants talking, but I'm feeling somewhat optimistic about 2010
At any rate, it's like Obama after Bush. 2010 can't possibly be worse than 2009. It can't. It just can-not.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Winter Angel

I have been told, I have been told,
that this year
the snow over there,
over the seas, across the Occidental line,
(that is to say: where you are),
is maddening—
Overwhelming in its purity and ferocious in its zeal to cover,
cover every branch, roof, pavement, street and red postbox
with blankets of blinding white.
Just as once you rushed to cover me,
all of me—every curve and bump and hole and crack.

How I wish I could walk across ice and time to see
this greeting card scenery
with you smiling in it.
To smell again the sweet cinnamon and ginger
wafting from your oven,
as you stir lazily the grey granules which turn to thick brown gravy.
I wish I could just add water too,
to dilute the pauses and commas and semicolons and periods between us.

I wish I could sail to you in a raft of cinnamon sticks,
to see your breath condense in the cold air,
as you rub your cheek on my arms,
as I play with your hair,
while we wait for the cow-shaped timer to ring,
heralding the doneness of the cookies
we are too full to eat after the roast bird.

Yet I am here now,
over the seas, in the Orient,
with no snow,
but I have instead warm, humid rain,
and some places with poor taste
have white spray for their plastic firs,
or worse, cotton.
No snow, rain, cotton, too many memories,
and just enough revelations.

Because while snowflakes fall on your roof,
thoughts and raindrops fall on me—
I now realise
that I will always want to see your breath in the cold
more than you will ever want to see me sweat here,
in this steaming, sticky peninsular.

I longed for the smiles you gave me,
but I now finally see
that those smiles were given many winters ago,
and I have used them for longer than you intended.

Surely some new boy has your cheek on his shoulder,
Surely you two are looking out the window at the flurrying powder,
waiting for the timer to ring...
Surely?
Surely, I am not meant to know.
Surely, even if there is no such boy, your thoughts are not of me.
Surely, it does not matter either way anyway.

What once was but is no longer,
should not matter anymore,
cannot matter anymore,
no matter how I will it to.
I know better now,
and I suppose, it's better that I know.

I am nonetheless content with the assurance,
that while it mattered,
it was real,
as real as the snow I can only hear about.
How could it have been anything else?

But now,
as surely as the snow will thaw to wet,
I will let loose those days to dissolve,
save but for a feather of yours to remind me
that it was good while it was good,
but now,
I should waste no more time,
and begin to look for new wings to fly with,
or perhaps grow some of my own.

Merry Christmas!

Dear World,
Merry Christmas!
I wish all of you a wonderful year ahead!

Yours,
A very stuffed Algernon
xoxo

P.S. Don't worry, the tacky colour scheme is only temporary!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Quote of the Week

if you really want to see something in 3D, go see something called "live theatre".
crotoan

If you haven't got your tickets to "A Light in KL City" on at KLPAC, go get them NOW!
From Axcess Tickets HQ in PJ, 1U or Alamanda Putrajaya, or at the KLPAC box office. You can bring along friends and family (live shows make memorable Christmas gifts!) and I assure you, it'll be time and money well spent.

I'm going to catch the performance on the 26th. Can't wait!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Happy Holidays!

Alternatively titled "Let's Get Emo About the Last Christmastime of the Decade"

Yes. It’s that time of year again. You sigh because you know it. The decorations, from over-the-top fantastical to gloriously cheap and tacky, pop up like mushrooms in public spaces all over town. Non-Caucasian Santas and scantily-dressed Santarinas (Question: Santa is allowed to be an obese slob but his female counterparts have to be skinny and tall and wear mini-skirts? Feminism apparently never reached the North Pole) prance around malls. Those horrendous carols play over loudspeakers endlessly. The shopping areas are crowded and every place is shouting: SALE! SALE! SALE! Buy! Consume! Pay later! It’s the only way to show you love them: give them iPods, Nintendo Wiis, watches, books, ties, belts and jewellery you hope they’ll like. Everybody wants you to buy something for them, or to buy something from them.

Then there’s the food. If there’s one thing that says “Tis’ the season”, it’s the food. What will it be this year? Roast Beef from the Ang Moh Delicatessen or Roast Turkey from the 5-Star Hotel? You'll buy pies, pastries and cakes from the bakery with the French name you can’t pronounce. Calorie counter? Never heard of it. Vege? You’ll roast them, eat a few sticks to kill the guilt, then mash the leftovers with the dog food before it all goes off. The food consumed over these weeks will be regretted over till February, even as your New Year’s resolution to jog thrice a week crumbles as you stuff the last chocolate chip cookie into your gob.

If you, like me, are above 20 but don’t yet have kids to instill good values in yet, then you're probably sick of all this. The lustre of gifts and the hope behind the annual messages of goodwill amongst all men has faded and degraded into the cynicism and commercialism that you detest but somehow embrace as well. Two pairs for RM200? Forget about mum, I’m getting these for myself! Buy one perfume set and you get a small ugly bag you’ll never use? Heck yes!

You know that after all the excess eating, the drunken parties, the endless washing up and the dismantling of the plastic fir tree, you’ll have to start work again to pay off those credit card bills, and you’ll be utterly disgusted at yourself for all that senseless hedonism and spending. And you’re not the only one. I’m sick of it too. Everyone’s sick of it. In fact, we’re all sick of hearing about how everyone else is sick of it.

But admit it. Every year, there will be moments...

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Food for Thought: www.jihad.com

Thomas Friedman writes an op-ed for the New York Times called "www.jihad.com". Click on the post title to visit the article (it's short).

What are your views?

Ok, off to pass a gift soon, then Live Shocks at Bangsar.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Exhale

Christmas trees, baubles, interviews, traffic jams, rehearsals, props, mamak, more jams, more interviews, piercing questions, more rehearsals, soul searching, an absolutely beautiful mansion, selling, spinning,  declining, hotels, proms, ships, murder, bad mikes, calls, pole dancing, stars in my eyes (and in my room), cupcakes, Hannah Yeoh, lesson prep, teaching, cake & coffee, Baskin Robbins, walnuts, the Sister's friends, editing, an awesome wedding...with cupcakes! (Congrats Pauline and Mike!), Christmas songs, coffee with an old friend,  reminiscing, malls, buying tickets for Light in KL City (playing at KLPAC: PLEASE GO WATCH IT PEOPLE!), photocopying, more food...

Gosh, it's been a wonderfully busy and tiring week!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Quote of the Week

"I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member."
Groucho Marx (October 2, 1890 – August 19, 1977), American comedian and film star.

I know exactly how you feel Groucho.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Thank You, Congratulations, Good Luck

I went to Menara Tun Razak earlier today to collect my results slip. I was surprised to find that Suhakam has its office in the same fugly building. Shows how much our government cares about the Commission. Ok, maybe I'm being melodramatic, but in my (admittedly biased) mind that dirty brown building is about as pretty as Isengard (and it's filled with the same creatures).

Anyway, to all of you who have sent me well wishes, thank you so much for your kind words. I do appreciate them.

To all of you who passed this resit, a hearty congratulations! We have gone through a very difficult experience twice and we've survived to tell the tale. We deserve to treat ourselves and celebrate, at least until we start working.

On that note, good luck with finding a place and with your nine months of chambering.

Some Updates

I have been, as I said before, busy getting the Kota Kemuning church building ready. I am glad to say that the building was dedicated last Saturday, and the event went very well. On Sunday, we had our first service there. As I've said before, it was a lot of work setting up a new congregation, and I'm very glad the building was ready on time. The membership is of course proud of what we've accomplished; we really put in blood, sweat and tears into this. However, we know the hard work has just begun and we're glad we can start serving the community. We are also humbly thankful for God's providence. I pray He will continue to grant us wisdom, faith, strength, patience and endurance.

Now that that's done, I will be busy helping out some friends direct a short play for a High School Prom this 17th. I've always wanted to do this so hopefully it will be a good learning experience.

And oh yes, I guess I should mention that I got my CLP resit results today. I passed. The funny thing is, some people around me are making a far bigger fuss than I am about this...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

I'm Still Alive...

...but am very busy!

I hope you're well!

Algy

P.S. The LPQBM is filled with imbecilic, avaricious tossers. There, I said it!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

How Fragile We Are

We do indeed forget how fragile we are, but losing an 8 year old friend is probably the most painful way to be reminded. Wei Xiang's passing is still in the back of my mind.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Farewell Wei Xiang

I would have posted sooner on this blog but I've been busy helping to set up the church building for my new congregation in Kota Kemuning. In fact I just came back with my family from cleaning up the first and second floors. We are dedicating the building this 5th December, God willing, and from then onwards I will no longer worship in Klang.

Unfortunately, before we even started, tragedy struck one of the families who will be moving with us to the new congregation from Klang. Last week, they lost a son and brother, and I lost a friend, Lim Wei Xiang. He was only eight years old. It was a complete shock as he had no known pre-existing disease and only last Sunday I had dinner with him and joked with him.

The family is of course distraught. The congregations in Klang, Subang Jaya and members in Kota Kemuning are obviously very upset. His death is completely unexpected. Less than two years ago, we also lost a child in Klang. He was 15.

The wake, memorial service and funeral were difficult and painful events. Tears filled my eyes and everyone else's. I cannot even begin to imagine what the family must go through.

His passing reminded me that we are indeed fragile, all of us. He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, little buddy.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Updates

- The first thing I did this morning was clean up an oil spill in front of my house driveway.  Nope, it wasn't pretty and yup, I'm freaking serious.

- The gig at Homegrown Space last Tuesday was the awesome, for the most part. The space was very, erm, "intimate", but the music was great. Can't say that about the crowd though, which was rather uptight. Why is it that I was the only one digging Malay hip-hop band SSK's hilarious lyrics? Malay isn't even my first language!

- My cousin has been in hospital since last Wednesday, recovering from serious poisoning. Please pray for him.

- My CLP results are coming out soon. Gaaaahhh!

- I am scouting out firms for a chambering position.

- I am catching up on my reading. It's Conrad right now. I should be finished with "Heart of Darkness" in a bit.

- I read this article by Ding Jo-Ann at The Nut Graph. Isn't VK the shizz? Isn't the Malaysian government's response awesome? Inspiring, really.

- I am really appalled with Streamyx's so-called "broadband" service; there is hardly a band, let alone a broad one! Malaysia has one of the slowest average broadband speeds in Asia and one of the most expensive rates. What a blinking joke that Dr. M wanted to set up the MSC, attract international IT and software companies investments and to set up an International IT Court in Malaysia, when the man on the street can't even stream a video without growing a beard. Read about Bernice Low's struggle against Streamyx here (caution: more reasons to love the Malaysian government). At least she rants on CNET Asia. All I did was join the "Streamyx Sucks" group on facebook.

- I hope you're well!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Us humans could be said to be fundamentally the same wherever we come from. Or we could be said to be fundamentally different.
You choose what you want to see: our similarities or our differences. You decide how you want to treat others: with love and respect for our common humanity, or with hate, suspicion and condescension at others' differences.
I choose to see our similarities. I choose to love.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Irreplaceable

I wonder, if he were still here, what sort of music he'd make, how many more hearts he'd touch, how he'd live his life. I guess I'll never know...

Say It Isn't So!

Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens has uttered truly painful words: “I no longer really have faith in the album anymore. I no longer have faith in the song.”

Read the article here.

I'm going to weep in a corner now.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

Like many kids in my socio-economic demographic, my exposure to the intricacies of the English language started through Sesame Street, and I still have a soft spot for the adorable muppets and monsters who inhabit that lovely neighbourhood.

This year, the venerable kids TV show turns forty, and celebrations are underway around New York. James Y. Lee of Time Out New York writes on the inspiration behind the show's set—a place many of us lived our childhoods in, along with Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster, Telly, Oscar the Grouch, the Count, Grover, Kermit, Ernie and Bert.

Click on the post's title to visit the article.

At Gothamist, there's a small gallery of photos from the actual set.

FREE GIG YO!

Hello Smexy Folks of the Klang Valley,
Here's good news (for once!):
There'll be a FREE gig this Tuesday (the 10th) at 7-10pm at Homegrown Space, Wisma Bentley Music (right next to the Curve/opposite Ikano&IKEA).

And guess who's performing? The singer-songwriter Reza Salleh and indie rock band SevenCollar T-Shirt, along with SSK! These are über-talented acts so the music will be great. Plus, it's FREE!

I'll be in the Mutiara Damansara area probably from lunch-time onwards, so give me a ring and we can do coffee or Swedish meatballs. Do come to support these amazing local acts. Did I mention the gig's FREE?

See you there,
Algy

P.S. Check out Reza Salleh here and SevenCollar T-Shirt here.

[Edit 9/10: Correction! Wisma Bentley's actually opposite Tesco and next to McD's, on the same side as Ikea and Ikano, not opposite. Sorry, my bad!]

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Happy Guy Fawkes Day & Happy Birthday


Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
The Sister turns a year older on every Guy Fawkes Day. How cool is that? Why can't my birthday be on some revolutionary date?

Happy Birthday Sis.

Love you always,
Bro

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

I Need Some Advice...

Dear All,
Please tell me what I should do with the rest of my life because I really don't know myself, and not knowing is not nice.
Oh, a time-line would be useful if you have a long term answer...

Yours desperately,
Algernon

P.S. Please do not tell me the answer is "within me".

Oh Dear

Today I did something I'd never, ever normally do...

I was at a mall with the SIster and there was a clothes sale on the concourse. I spotted a long sleeve WHITE work shirt at RM35 discounted from RM140.

I thought, "Well, that's a good deal and I'll probably need it soon if I'm going to start working in a law firm". So I bought it. With my own money.

I do have a few work shirts but they are all in deep colours. I've never bought white work shirts before other than for high school because they are unflattering, far too austere looking and, well, frankly, they scream "I'm a lawyer!".

I'm a little disgusted at myself now...but I guess we all have to grow up sooner or later, right? Le sigh.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Looking For DVDs

If any of you have these DVDs (genuine or otherwise)...please, please, please lend them to me! I promise you I'll take good care of them and return them promptly.

Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange"
Hayao Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro" (or better still his box set!).
Monty Python's "Monty Python & The Holy Grail"
Jonathan Larson and Chris Columbus's "RENT: The Musical"
Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction"
Wong Kar Wai's "Chungking Express"
Old movies/musicals like "Casablanca", "My Fair Lady", "Singing in the Rain", "Gone With the Wind" etc...
Anything by Ingmar Bergman or Woody Allen.

Thanks!

Hurray!

I finally found this book at MPH 1U after looking for it for ages..and I paid nothing because I used some book vouchers I'd won a while ago. Happy days!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Happy Halloween!

Dear World,
Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you're having fun!

Algernon the Cowboy


...and no, I do NOT condone suicide!

Comic from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Friday, 30 October 2009

AKU

by Chairil Anwar

Kalau sampai waktuku
'Ku mau tak seorang kan merayu
Tidak juga kau

Tak perlu sedu sedan itu

Aku ini binatang jalang
Dari kumpulannya terbuang

Biar peluru menembus kulitku
Aku tetap meradang menerjang

Luka dan bisa kubawa berlari
Berlari
Hingga hilang pedih peri

Dan aku akan lebih tidak perduli

Aku mau hidup seribu tahun lagi

Thursday, 29 October 2009

I Wish I Was In New York

...although it's actually transferring from London.

Yes We Can!

Speaking of performances, Improv Everywhere is always amazingly inventive and entertaining. Check this out:

I find it pretty amazing that some of the shoppers act like absolutely nothing's going on!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Big Giant and the Little Giantess

SKR, this one's for you...
Beijing recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of communist China on an immense scale with much pomp and circumstance. In Berlin however, they celebrated the fall of communism in Europe and celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall's on a (relatively) smaller scale without any gigantic weapons, rockets, tanks or armed forces marching.
Click on the post title to enjoy more pictures from The Big Picture blog. I find the symbolism behind the performance engaging and meaningful. Hmm...I wonder if KL will ever see any public spectacle of this sort.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Gorgeous

...and just what I wanted! Thank you so much GJ. I'm still floored by the cover.

You Know Who You Are

Monday, 26 October 2009

Quote of the Week

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come,
And let my liver rather heat with wine
Than my heart cool with mortifying groans.
Gratiano in Act I, Scene i of Shakespeare's "The Merchant Of Venice".

Bring on the celebrations!

Here's To The Rest Of My Life

Hello World,
My name is Joshua Chong, and today is my birthday.
As I turn a year older today, it's only appropriate that I take on a bit more responsibility...I will begin by removing the veil of anonymity I have worn here.

I am doing this more in the interests of responsible, accountable and transparent blogging than for any dramatic reason—after all, most of you already know who I am and "Algernon deWeizer" was a laughably flimsy cover anyway.

So from now on, you can link up this blog using my real name (in fact please do), and identify yourself when commenting. In the interests of continuity, I will continue to use "Algernon" as my pen name.

***
By an odd, almost divine coincidence, today is also the day a chapter of my life closes for good.

I finished sitting for my Certificate in Legal Practice referral paper earlier today at UM, and with that I end my formal study of law, probably forever.

I have this much to say about the CLP: NEVER AGAIN! One year's tyranny and degradation is enough to last a lifetime.

***
I realise the greatest gift I have received throughout the past 12 months are the people who have rallied around me with love, sympathy, generosity and patience. People who had faith in me and gave me support and hope even as I went through a horrendous experience and lost a lot of self-confidence. And what's even more amazing is that I hardly know some of them.

I also realise that not all the people you expect to help you will comprehend your difficulties or symphatise with you. Not all of them will be there even if you helped them in their times tough times. Learn not expect people to repay you that way.

To those who stood by me, thank you for pulling me through. I am moved by the generous spirits. My faith in humanity is restored because of you. I know at times I have been difficult to deal with the past year and I'm sorry. For putting up with me when I could hardly put up with myself, a million times thank you.

***
I am looking forward to a prolonged celebration after my "self-imposed ascetic house arrest". Call me, text me, message me online or email me, because wherever, whatever and whenever it is, the answer is "Yes".

So three cheers to the rest of my life, wherever it may lead.

I wish you well,
Joshua/Algernon.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Here We Go Again

Dear All,
I will not be posting anything on this blog from now till the 26th, i.e. my birthday. I just found out I have to study for a very difficult exam on that date (yes, a lovely birthday gift, isn't it?). I'm going to do nothing besides cram and what is absolutely necessary for human survival (eat, drink, crap, piss, sleep and clean myself) for the next 20 days.

Please, please, PLEASE contact me by email or phone. I really will need as much encouragement as I can get because I'll be going through hell again.

Yours,
Algy

P.S. To those of you celebrating Deepavali, I hope you have a wonderful time with your friends and loved ones.

Blog & Roll: The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

I'm not sure how much of my punctuation anal-ness I'm revealing here, but I find this blog hilarious.

Click on the post title to visit it.

P.S. I'm surprisingly calm for someone who's going to stare into the jaws of death in less than 12 hours from now.

Friday, 2 October 2009

The Oral Stage's Oh Dad, Poor Dad

I watched Arthur Kopit's play "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad" (yes, that is the full title) performed at KLPAC's Pentas Dua last night, and I'm glad to say I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

All three leads were well cast for their roles and were a joy to watch.

Madam Rosepettle, played by Nicole-Ann Thomas, is a domineering mother whose saccharine name doesn't quite suggest her iron-fisted character. Ms. Thomas displayed great confidence, astute comic timing as well as the enviable ability to go through a five page monologue without breaking a sweat, bless her.

Alfred Loh plays her smothered and ineffectual son with comfort and energy. Mr. Loh actually has a second role in the play, and it's amazing how he pulled off both with such ease—it really must be seen to be believed! Hanneke Talbot as the babysitter Rosalie brought out the naughty, playful side of the character and, later on, her less-than-innocent aspects as well.

The entire play takes place in a Caribbean hotel suite Madam Rosepettle has moved into with her son, her pet piranha and her two Venus fly-traps. Everyone else in the play pretty much comes into the room to interact with them. What is clever is that this physical claustrophobia slowly seeps into (or rather shows through) the psychology of the characters as the play unfolds.

Nothing is quite as it seems; the set and costumes are bright and cheery, the characters are really over-the-top, and a lot of the dialogue seems silly and comedic, yet as the play progresses horrible undertones of domineeringness, disloyalty, dysfunction and death creep in to undermine the facade.

However, this production by the Oral Stage (director Kelvin Wong) thankfully brought out the raunchy and brash comedy in the script and played with its absurdist/farcical side to balance its darkness and pessimism. The audience was laughing loudly till the end, and I certainly left the theatre with equal measures of unease and glee.

"Oh Dad, Poor Dad" is playing till the 4th, so please, please catch it if you can!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Advice for Writers

The best rule that I've heard with regards to writing is that there are no rules. And the best advice I've been given with regards to writing is that there are only two types of writing: good writing and bad writing.

Take what you read below with a pinch of salt.

Getting Back to Basics with Your Writing

Advice from Writers to Writers Part 1 and Part 2.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Sonnet 138

by William Shakespeare

When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor'd youth,
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young.
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue:
On both side thus is simple truth suppress'd:
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O! love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be.


Sunday, 27 September 2009

Quote of the Week

An actress can only play a woman. I'm an actor, I can play anything.
Whoopi Goldberg (b. November 13, 1955), American actress actor and comedian.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Selamat Hari Raya/Eid Mubarak

Dear World,
I'm sorry this greeting comes on the third day of Syawal, but I have been busy with meeting friends and (of course) indulging in food.
I'm sure it's not too late to wish everyone Selamat Hari Raya, Eid Mubarak! To all travelers, please come take care on the road.
May the coming year be a good one for you.

Algy

Friday, 18 September 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness Simplified

You may have seen this already. But even if you didn't, you'd have known it deep down inside, right?

Image courtesy of the awesome graphic design site typcut.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

What does Umno value?

The Nut Graph's Ding Jo-Ann asks the question and answers it with the painful truth.

Click on the post title to read the article.

Someone Like Me

Ms. Pixie Lott shows us how it's done.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Happy Malaysia Day

Dear Malaysians,
Our brothers and sisters across the South China Sea deserve better than to be insulted every year by adverts saying "Happy 52nd Birthday Malaysia!" on the 31st of August. It irks me that something as critical as the birth date of our nation can not only be so casually forgotten, but negligently misrepresented.

Malaysia, as a nation, became a reality today, 46 (not 52) years ago. How would you like to be called 52 all the time when you've just passed 45 years? Not very much, I should expect. That we can't even get our facts right betrays our less-than-concerned attitude towards the welfare of East Malaysians. It's time we end the ignorance, end the abuse, and start being fair (like we promised 46 years ago).

Algy

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Irreplaceable

Scared Indeed

It is not often that I use the adjective "otherworldly" to describe any experience, let alone one that only lasted two and a half hours. But that was what it was for me.
Thank you Ash for bringing me, Alex for hosting, and Elza, Toby, Patrick, Marvin and of course Nick for giving me something real.

Friday, 11 September 2009

T4YP's Hamlet: The Play's the Thing!

When it comes to plays, there are two opposite ways of approaching the (printed) source material before watching the performance. (My gut-feel is that most of the audience will take the middle road between the two.)

First there is the "ignore-it-completely" approach, where the viewer self-imposes tabula rasa before viewing, enjoying the story as it enfolds without expecting any of its twists or punch lines. Most new plays necessitate this approach because they would not be published yet, and since they are written for modern audiences, there is usually no need to go through the script to grasp the performance anyway.

On the other end is the "I-must-know-everything" approach, where the play is read (and re-read), deconstructed, dissected and then reconstructed, with every subtext, nuance, undertone and stage direction carefully studied. Background material is thoroughly researched and some go so far as to view a recorded performance or movie version. This approach clearly takes effort, and is more suited to (and needed for) plays which are decidedly complex and multilayered, and what body of dramatic literature can be considered more complex and multilayered than Shakespeare's plays? Further, within that body, which play can claim to be more complex and multilayered than Hamlet? Arguably, none.

A viewing of the play, be it performed by a collegiate am-dram club or a West End all-star ensemble, necessitates at least a prior familiarisation with the plot, more so than many of Shakespeare's other works, because it is complex both in terms of plot and language. Yet, even with this done, every new staging of Hamlet surprises because the play is almost always rearranged and edited to cut down on its full length of four hours.

Thus, as I watched TY4P's (Theatre for Young People) version at KLPAC's cozy Pentas Dua last night, I was driven to see how director Christopher Ling and his young ensemble would tell the tale, and I was not disappointed. The script was brisk and had a cut-and-paste feel, with earlier lines snipped and tucked into other scenes to good effect. The aesthetic was minimalistic, slick and dark (think lots of black and very few props), and as Pentas Dua is an intimate space, this proved a good decision—men in tights and brick fortifications would definitely have distracted more than enhanced the performances. Yet, I had the feeling that the starkness was due to a modest budget as much as it was a deliberate choice. This minimalism extended even to the cast, many who played multiple roles throughout.

Mr. Ling's no-frills approach had its shortcomings, however. The audience sat on both sides of the stage (the floor) and there was no clear backstage. The cast sat on a long pew on one side of the stage with a blue backlight, and as the play started the actors ran to the stage and cut straight to the action—a clever touch to start the ball rolling. The problem started however, when the play progressed, as actors moved to the pew instead of exiting offstage. As I sat on the first row, this proved distracting when cast members moved about and shoes clacked, and I had to keep reminding myself "don't look there".

Nonetheless, I was pleased with the play's overall artistic direction which lent it an air of modern relevance, and I found the liberal use of haze particularly effective throughout. It accorded the show at different times a dream-like surreality, an eerie chill or an aura of melancholy (it also nicely definined Sazali Sim's lighting).

The cast itself was adequate but inconsistent—at times I struggled to hear the lines and at others I felt them too loud, and the timing was askew here and there. Izmir Husein as the tortured Prince of Denmark showed great potential (save for a little nervousness). In what is arguably Shakespeare's most difficult role, he did his best in bringing out Hamlet's anger at those around him (especially in the scenes where he brutally chastises his lover and mother), and at delivering the many (in)famously knotty soliloquies his character expounds. I was however more convinced by his feelings of weltschmerz, confusion, loneliness and apprehension rather than his growing madness or vengefulness. This Hamlet seemed to need more of a hug than a dagger. That's not to say it wasn't a good performance—merely that Izmir brought out those aspects of Hamlet best.

In fact I felt the whole play was stronger in its moments of vague melancholy and vacillation rather than those of death-induced anguish, present danger, or burning hate, but one must remember this is a difficult play to balance even for established thespians, let alone our young performers.

The play was saved from being humourless by wonderful moments of comic relief in Polonious's (Dinesh Kumar) verbosity and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's (Gregory Tze and Tung Jit Yang) jocularity. Rachel Henry's Ophelia was thankfully controlled rather than parodic, but the other leads (Nick Dorian and Nabihan Yacoob as the King and Queen, Nur Zakuan as Laertes), while delivering their lines well, didn't quite seem as scheming, greedy, worried, guilty, angry or murderous as their parts required, mainly because their youth worked against them (and in the case of Laertes—I'm really sorry but she's just too comel la).

Hamlet's emotional and linguistic scope is so broad that is proves endlessly challenging to stage, and I am glad that T4YP at least met the bull by the horns. That same scope also allows for multifarious interpretations, and maintains the play's popularity four centuries after the Bard wrote it. I for one will be looking forward to this cast performing it perhaps a decade later, and if their potential is developed, I'm sure I'll have to pay twenty times more for the ticket, but I'll do so more than willingly.

Photos courtesy of KLUE and Candid Photography.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Willie Nelson Sings Rainbow Connection

I can't embed it but please click on the post title to view the video on YouTube. It's a beautiful cover.

Quote of the Week

"Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace that is attained only by those countries who have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it."
Norman Mailer (January 31, 1923 – November 10, 2007), American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter and film director. In a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq.

Top 10 Myths Pasal Merdeka

Fahmi Reza is, in his own way, a revisionist of Malaysian history. Mind you, he isn't hired by anyone to do it, nor is he in it for profit (his offers his work to view/download for free).

As I am one who finds it important to challenge official or accepted narratives, I believe he is an important figure in both revisiting our history and opening up debate on it (even his findings will not find agreement with all Malaysians).

Click on the post's title to read his short piece for PopIN. I know he says "Kalau tak percaya tengok aku punya movie" here and there, but if you you haven't actually watched his movies ("10 Tahun Sebelum Merdeka" and its sequel "Revolusi 48"), you really ought to (and where the heck have you been anyway?). They are available all over the internet. Just google the titles. Don't be lazy.

Thanks to Ash for the link.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Evanesco Extrafatto!

I've definitely overindulged over the weekend, mainly on food I cooked myself while trying out the new oven. I guess I'll have to repent and do lots of cardio the next few days.

Speaking of food, here's some food for thoughts for Potter fans"

Harry Potter and the Tremendous F-up

Harry Potter and the Fascist Ubermensch

These are critical views on a more general level, but there are plenty of minute (and not so minute) plot holes throughout the series.

I'm still watching the last Potter movie though. Wait..makes that movies.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Blog & Roll: For Book Lovers

Since I've not posted a "Blog & Roll" feature for so long, it's only fair that I post more than one blog in compensation.

These sites are all related to books (or stuff related to books). For the consideration of all fellow book lovers out there:

Bookslut
A webzine featuring articles and interviews on books, authors, poetry and literature.

Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie

Beautiful and interesting bookplates.

book lovers never go to bed alone
A tumblr featuring visuals of, yup, you win a cookie, books.

The Book Cover Archive
"An archive of book cover designs and designers for the purpose of appreciation and categorization".

Home

Merdeka Day having just passed, thoughts on my mind have naturally circled around the state of the our nation: its past, its present, its problems, its place in the world and its future. Ever as I grow older, I have come to see my country's history and makeup as far more complex and multi-faceted than any Kurikulum Bersepadu textbook would have me believe. To learn and come to know more about it, as the famous song goes, is to love it more.

A recent incident involving a cow's head has been particularly upsetting and unsettling; it's moments like those that make me question whether anyone should be proud to be Malaysian.

Yet I remember a snippet of a conversation which provides a personal counterpoint. It happened during dinner with 2 friends at Dave's 1Utama not too long ago (the food there's pretty decent, if you want to know, and they open later than most places at 1U, and they have an outdoor area and no this is not a hidden advert).

I had not met either of them in a long while. She had graduated down under about a year or so ago and had started a new job recently, while he was visiting during a break from his work abroad. We were discussing the cities we studied in, and when asked about Melbourne, she said "Oh, I love Melbourne." So he asked her, "When are you was going back there then?" The conversation went something like this.

She: Oh, not in the near future. Maybe 2 or 3 years from now?
He: Oh, then when will you be there for good?
She: You mean live there? Oh no, I'll never live there for good. I mean I'd visit but I couldn't live there.
Me: Why can't you live in Australia for good? (I was puzzled because most graduates from developed countries I know never say something like this).
She: Because this is home.
I smiled and nodded sagely.
She: And you want to make a difference here, right?
Me (nodding again and smiling broadly): Yup, you do!
Then I almost giggled (I think I was both slightly amused and genuinely happy to hear someone so optimisitic).
She: Yeah! You wanna make a difference.
Me (still nodding and smiling): Yeah...Yeah...You do.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Selamat Hari Merdeka

My fellow Malaysians,
I wish all of you in your many shapes, sizes, hues and ages a very Happy 52nd Independence Day!

Let us take today to contemplate not just our shared history but our shared destinies, and let us appreciate that though we are blessed beyond measure, there are still many freedoms we need to struggle for.

May we see better days ahead. Selamat Hari Merdeka!

Yours,
Algernon

Sunday, 23 August 2009

LEGEND!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Happy Fasting

Dear World,
Happy Fasting to all Muslims.
Can't wait for the cookies at Raya-time. Mmmm...

Yours,
Algy

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Blueberry Girl

For the Sister.


I love Neil Gaiman, but I'm thinking...why buy the book when you can just watch this?

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Coat/Kota

Black/Red and Grey
XXL/M I guess?
Simple/Not quite

For the cold/Always cold
Buttons/Banks
Frayed lining/Back streets

Familiar/Familiar
Comfy/You grow into it
Fits me/I learnt to fit in

Many Memories/Yes, many.
Still with me/Still within me.
I'll wear it again/When I get here...

Someday: Soon.

[Edit 20/8: "Kota" means city, town or fort in Malay.]

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Rashdan Harith

I had a blast at Rashdan Harith's EP launch (entitled "Revelations and a Cup of Coffee") last night in town. I think my friend put it best when he said "It's always heartening to see someone chasing their dream".

Congratulations to Rashdan. Support the Malaysian music industry! Get his CD people!

This is one of his earlier songs called "My Favourite Soprano".

Monday, 17 August 2009

Do do do do do!



Skip to about 1m 35s, when Max's uncle asks him about his college fees, watch up the part where Jude is answers Max's question, then tell me what you think.

[Edit 19/8: For those of you who can't make out what's being said, here's the part of the script I meant to ask about:

Uncle Teddy
: Do you have any idea what your father pavys for those tuition fees?
Mr. Carrigan (sarcastically): Please...
Max: You know Uncle Teddy, he won't have to pay them very much longer. I'm dropping out.
Grandma Carrigan: Cranberry sauce isn't as tangy as last year.
Mrs. Carrigan: Don't be ridiculous!
Max: I am not cut out for this collegiate crap.
Mr. Carrigan: Oh..oh no problem. Whatdoyou...What's your plans? You're gonna buy a broken down station wagon, drive across America like Jack...what is it?
Mrs. Carrigan: Kerouac.
Lucy (surprised): Mum?
Mrs. Carrigan: I read!
Max: Well, actually y'know I was hoping to borrow your car dad. It's got AC and stereo.
Mr. Carrigan (banging the table): Goddamnit Max! Be serious for once! What do you actually intend to do with you life?!
Max: Why is it always about "What will you do?" What will you do? What will he do? Oh my God! What will he do? Do do do do do. Why isn't the issue here who I am?
Uncle Teddy: Because Maxwell, what you do defines who you are.
Max: No Uncle Teddy. Who you are defines what you do, right Jude?
Jude: Erh...surely it's not, er, what you do but it's the way that you do it?]

From "Across the Universe".

Thursday, 13 August 2009

WOW!

This is for Ash.

This Bowie cover starts out as a decent, if slightly folksy, ukuleles-are-the-bestest piece, but listen a little longer and I assure you you'll get goosebumps. If you don't, you need help!

Bravo Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain!
Check out their other work—they have a wonderfully irreverent sense of humour!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

One Year On

At about this time, on this date, exactly one year ago, I landed on Malaysian soil, after being abroad for close to 2 years. When I finally got out onto KLIA's arrival lounge, I was very fatigued and very annoyed—there were plenty of things that went wrong on that journey (which would have been exhausting even if nothing went awry). I was dying to leave the airport as soon as I met my family. When I reached home, I finally saw the new extensions to the house that my family had told me about. It did not look like the same house I left. It was not the last thing I would soon find out had changed.

It seems strange that one year has passed; I can still remember the streets, buildings, layout, buses, sounds, weather, even smells of the city I left. It has all been engraved unto my memory. And of course, I miss the many, many people I left behind. (At this point in time, I suppose nostalgia is really creeping in and making me melancholic.)

But it does seem hard to believe so much time has passed. At times I thought I would never pull through—the last year has really seemed like nothing but a horrendous, never-ending nightmare. Now that it's over, I realise that I've not moved anywhere, as if I've just woken up from a night's sleep. Yet I know it would be foolish to act as if things have not changed, as if people have remained the same. The truth is things (and people) have changed a lot. Just as things change without you, things change with you, and within you.

Coming back was the right decision, even considering what happened after, but the way I spent the past 12 months, that was a mistake. I adamantly refuse to rose-tint the experience, just so I can feel good about it, just so I can say it was not a waste of time or just so I can delude myself into believing the feel-good, self-help, phony life coach "advice" we've all been fed.

It was something I wish did not happen. It was something that made me deeply unhappy. And it was a waste of time. I won't pretend otherwise. The fact is, sometimes things really were all bad, and sometimes you gain little from life even though you put in much. The point is to realise it, accept the truth, and then move on and not repeat the same mistakes.

The past year has neither made me a better person/son/friend nor a kinder one, but perhaps...I am a wiser one. I have lost faith in many things, and I have lost time, friends, happiness, self-confidence even, but perhaps...I have not lost hope. Hope that I will find something, if I keep looking hard enough. Hope that there are greener pastures waiting for me if I work hard enough. Hope that one day, I'll find my place in the world. Even if the past was shitty, there's no guarantee that the future will be the same...

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

What A Difference...

My friends say I sound happier, look more energised, talk more positively.
It's true, I feel so much better nowadays.
There's a spring in my step. I look at each new day differently. I am contented and at peace without any need for external stimuli to make me so.
14 days back, and I would have been a different person entirely....
I'm so glad to be me again.

Tian Shu

I got back from Kuantan last Sunday night, physically exhausted but spiritually renewed. The trip was very interesting, it certainly triggered many questions about myself and my relationships with people around me.

Anyway, I found this via The Historian's Craft. It's an art installation by Chinese artist Xu Bing called "Tian Shu". It's amazingly beautiful and it speaks to me as someone who is ethically Chinese but cannot read more than a dozen Chinese characters.

Click on the post title above to read and see more.

Image courtesy of booklyn.com

Friday, 31 July 2009

Weekend Escapade

I'm off to the East Coast till Sunday. xoxo

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Jukebox: Sesame Street

Finally, a second installment of Jukebox.

I think I owe my proficiency in English to this show. And close to 40 (yes, fourty) years on, it's still as good as ever.






Anyway, I'm off to town again. God, it's good to be free!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Farewell

The closest I got to her was when she was at Starbucks KLCC, in her most familiar look: wearing an unassuming pastel-toned baju kebaya. She was with her friends and talking to fans, so I left her be.

And now she's gone. I was shocked when I read she was hospitalised but I told myself, don't worry, she'll recover...How wrong I was.

It saddens me that such a talented director, a conjurer of tales, a moulder of hearts, and a painter of our society's hopes and fears, has left us. She was a steadfast reflector of our life and our times, and a true Malaysian if there ever was one. She left so soon—we were still expecting her to grow from strength to strength and to have many, many more years of storytelling. Stories for us, and stories of us.

Farewell, Yasmin.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Sometimes You Just Want to Dissapear

Mr. Liu's pretty crazy, but in a good way.
Click on the post title to see more of his photographs.

Yes Indeed!

Today, for the first time in a long, long while, I felt alive.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Exhale...

I'm back.
It's over.
Thank God.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

This Song Moved Me

This will be my last post till late next month. Wish me luck—I'll need it!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Blog & Roll: Terrible Yellow Eyes

Anyone who has read and enjoyed Maurice Sendak's seminal book Where the Wild Things Are will love this blog which features work inspired by the book.
Click on the post title to visit the site.

And oh yes, they've made a movie out of the book too ('they' being Hollywood, not the blog owners), coming out in October this year. Whether the film makers can create a successful feature length movie out of a short illustrated book with barely 20 lines of text while staying faithful to the original material will be something worth observing.

Here's the trailer:

Monday, 8 June 2009

Shout Out

To all of you who have finished or are soon to finish their BVC, LPC, or undergrad courses: Congratulations!!! I'm proud of all of you!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

This Day in History

On June the 6th...
125 years ago, YMCA was founded in London. By pure coincidence I ate there twice today!
65 years ago, the Allied forces landed on Normandy on D-Day.
25 years ago, Tetris was invented in Moscow.
24 years ago, a friend was born. Happy Birthday old chum!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Happy World Environment Day

Dear World,
I hope one day you'll be ok again.
I love you.

Yours,
Algy.

Charms

For (L-R) Lydia, Lilian, Shara and Shi Wen. I miss all of you!
I'm sorry guys girls, but I don't have a scanner and my old camera's crap. You can still click on the photo to enlarge, though.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

What Crisis?

The recent revelation of expenses claims abuses by politicians in the UK became a catalyst to a political quagmire: a host of high profile ministers have resigned, preempting Prime Minister Gordon Brown's attempted cabinet reshuffle. The Guardian, in no unclear terms, has even called him to step down, or rather, asked his party to 'cut him off'.

All this seems to indicate that PM Brown is facing a crisis of leadership and confidence both within his own Labour party and amongst the hoi polloi, even as Britons go to the polls tomorrow for the European Parliament and local council elections.

The claims abuse revelation was by no means the first of PM Brown's many political scandals and embarrassments; problems within his government were openly reported and commented on long before the claims abuses came to light, but perhaps it was the very last straw which broke the public's back. The backlash that came Brown's way could not have been unexpected by anyone (living there). The people spoke, loudly and angrily: they will not accept such behaviour even as they are hard up and see their country's economy in tatters.

The expenses scandal has now (rightly) been called a 'crisis' by the British press, really more due to its devastating aftermath than anything. It made me wonder, if something similarly embarrassing came to light to the Malaysian public, how would we react? Would there be such a vehement outcry against those who participated in the wrongdoing? Would ministers resign? Would there arise questions and debates pertaining to national leadership and party reform? Would we even call it a crisis?

Maybe I'm being pessimistic, but I highly doubt anything nearly that crushing would arise. While the abuses made in the UK are by no means negligible nor forgivable, they are, in my opinion, small in relation to the widespread and blatant corruption and abuses by our authorities and politicians on practically every level of government. I do not think we would be shocked. We would be angry, yes, but not angry enough to create a political quandary as the people of Britain have. We would not call it a crisis. We would call it 'business as usual'.

Now...back to my business. :(

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

KMR

Clearly Japanese, slightly surreal, absolutely beautiful.
Unfortunately, I cannot read Japanese so the artist(es)'s name(s) is/are unavailable.
Please click on the post title to enjoy more of his/her/their great artwork.
Found via czina likes.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Goodbye Jay!

After 17 years as host of 'The Tonight Show', Jay Leno passes the torch to Conan O'Brien.

Thassaloddakids.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Mainsejuk

A free live album from Coldplay! Isn't it nice of them?
Click on the post title to go to the download link.
Thanks ay-es. I miss you and hope you are well, as always.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Blog & Roll: Orisinal

This is not at all a blog but I thought I'd feature it anyway.

Orisinal is a small site that features simple (as in very, very simple) flash animation games which you can play to kill about 5 minutes of your time, say, while you're waiting for your mum to find her light blue scrunchie to match her shoes before you send her to the mall.
The thing about this site is that the games are beautifully animated, so that itself will make you want to play them, unless of course, you think God of War was a bit too mild, in which case you might not think the site is so hot.

Otherwise, click on the post title and enjoy.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost (like duh).

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Yes, it really is 2.30am)

Monday, 25 May 2009

Quote of the Week

Oh Great Spirit, grant that I may never find fault with my neighbor until I have walked the trail of life in his moccasins.
Cherokee Prayer

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Opposite Is Not True

When other people hate you, it's because of their own misunderstandings, their own prejudices, their own presumptions, their own insecurities, their own bruised egos and their own wounded feelings.

They will hate you for debts unpaid, for favours unreciprocated, for advances ignored, for this wrong or that slight. Their hatred is far more a reflection of themselves than of you.

None of them will hate you for your own sake, for yourself, for you. None of them know you completely, perfectly. The only person in whole world who is capable of truly hating you for you, is you.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Caramel & Sell Out!

Caramel
I watched Caramel some time ago, a Lebanese movie by first-time director Nadine Labaki (who also wrote the screenplay and acted as the lead character Layale). The title refers to the confectionery that is used as a wax at the parlour (ouch!), and is a metaphor for the bittersweetness of life and love. There isn't a prominent plot arch: the film simply centers around a few women who work in an unremarkable Beirut beauty parlour, and explores their relationships with various clients, friends, family members and love interests.

It's very much a small-scale, art house movie; its low-fi, understated approach is very apparent (and effective) throughout. Most of the movie is set in prosaic interiors or along cramped city streets; don't watch it expecting any stunning panoramic shots. Despite its art house approach however, I never felt like I was watching an avant garde artist's experiment in film or a socio-political documentarian's exposé (not that I have any problems watching those). The movie's production values are wonderfully strong, the camerawork polished and the cast consummate.

All the characters (even the minor ones) were engaging, convincing and endearing, and before long they were tugging my heartstrings. They opened a window to a mesmerising and wonderful world which I would otherwise have no access to, and through their stories, I learnt much about the society they live in. I learnt, for example, that like in Malaysia there are Lebanese who live in the same area but can barely communicate with each other due to different first languages (Arabic and French in their case). I learnt that there is a large, active Catholic population in Lebanon (or at least Beirut) which lives and works alongside the Muslim population there.

I found out all this and more unwittingly, almost subimally—I never felt preached to, which was wonderful. The movie never took on any grand theme it couldn't handle. It was neither a telling of "The Great Story of Lebanon", or an exploration of the role of women in Muslim and/or male-dominated Lebanon, or a study of religious and cultural plurality there. It was really just about a few ordinary women who happen to live in Beirut.

Another highly enjoyable aspect of the movie was how much was conveyed without a single word uttered. Whole scenarios were evoked without any verbal explanation. I could understand what problems the main characters were facing (for example Layale's affair) by merely looking at their faces and actions. I could detect worry, joy, love, fear, longing, pain, apprehension and relief in the subtlest of expressions and movements.

This economy of speech created an impression of authenticity: the scenes, emotions, problems and relationships felt real rather than staged or forced, because none of the women in the movie go babbling on about their feelings and problems to their close friends—in real life, your close friends (should) already know your problems and how you feel. For a first time director and script-writer, this approach to story-telling is truly a sign of self-control and talent (Hollywood scriptwriters and directors: please, please take note).

I cannot fault the acting here. Even the outrageous characters were portrayed with restraint and never turned into over the top caricatures. Jamale (played by Gisèle Aouad), the post-menopausal out-of-work actress and Lili (played by Aziza Semaan), the paper-collecting crackpot, were both hilarious and absolute pleasures to watch on screen. The editing, however, is imperfect at times, as scenes don't always flow well, but this shortcoming is minor compared to the movie's many strenghts.

For a first venture, the film showed great wisdom and compassion, and even managed what few dramas do: convey the universality of the human (in this case female) experience without turning into an NGO pamphlet. Ms. Labaki not only showed potential but exhibited the skill and talent of a far more experienced film-maker, and I will definitely be looking out for more work by her.

Sell Out!
Another movie I watched recently was indie comedy and part-musical, Sell Out! by Malaysian director Yeo Joon Han. It's been getting some international attention, and is also a first feature length effort, but unlike Caramel, subtlety is neither the movie's strong point nor its aim, and the absense of traditional plot is even more prominent here.

From the very first scenes you can tell the movie aims to be absurd and satirical. It opens with Rafflesia Pong, the female lead, interviewing (the real) Yeo Joon Han about his (fictitious) film: Love is Love is Love is Not Something Else for her (very unpopular) arts show on Fony TV11.

From then on, it's a zippy farce all the way to the end (in a good way). The movie deliberately pokes fun at everything that comes along its way (and a few things which don't). There are no sacred cows: the arts community, indie films, directors, film awards, musicals, eurasians, soya beans, originality, Chinese mediums, Chinese names, taxi cabs, surrealism, doctors, bosses, conglomerates, shopping centre assistants, cashiers, wealth, reality tv, accents, families, love, sickness, suicide, old people and even death is on the chopping block, with joke after joke rolling along regardless of its value (and sometimes, even relevance).

The male lead is Eric Tan, a half-English inventor working in Fony Corporation's Engineering Department who has created a machine which can turn soya beans into, well, everything that comes from soya beans, really. Problem is, his bosses insist the machine is too good: he needs to insert a mechanism which will wreck it after the warranty period is over before they'll agree to produce it, hence Eric's dilemma which is the main premise behind the movie. I found the theme easy to relate to, but wished it was more thoroughly explored.

Eric is played by Peter Davies, and I personally found him to be a charming character (albeit unemotional) with his boyish good looks, impeccable manners and a troubled Conscience (unfortunately for Eric, not just a little voice inside his head), and, unlike his bosses, I liked his "half English" a lot. He (or at least a part of him) likes Rafflesia (quite convincingly played by Jerrica Lai), a hardened, somewhat bitchy host who's jaded with "those over-rated underachievers we call artists" who also works for Fony Corp. Unlike Eric, her heart's been numbed long ago and she's in fact simply wishing for an opportunity to sell out (which comes in the way of a dying ex-boyfriend).

You'll either find Sell Out!'s farcical self-depreciation and satire hilarious, and thus forgive its intentionally higgledy-piggledy style, or find it impossible to swallow from the start, and thus find its shortcomings glaring and quirks exasperating. I don't recommend it if you merely "tolerate" art house/indie/experimental films. And if any of those adverbs gives you rashes, avoid this one like the plague. But the movie is undoubtedly and unashamedly Malaysian and is a worthy addition to our growing film landscape (unfortunately, there were only 2 other people in the entire cinema when I watched it!). If you watch indie movies all the time, you'll find the movie (and its abundant inside jokes) a riot!

And oh yes, the characters sing in the movie (a bit la).

Note: I don't think either movies are still playing but look out for the DVDs!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Blog & Roll: The Other Malaysia

Ever since I was a wee lad, I always found studying history the Ministry of Education way baffling. How is it that there is always only one version, one set of established causes, one undisputed outcome? How can we trust historical sources which clearly mix fact with fiction? How do we know which is which? How come so many things remain unmentioned while others were overblown?

Only much later would I learn that this was because history, as the famous adage goes, is always written by the victors. With every carefully selected "fact", picture, diagram and chart inserted into the (official) textbooks, an entire generation's understanding of its country's history has been shaped to fit the needs of the powers that be. With every removal, denial or distortion of the past, we are shortchanged when told story of our nation.

This official paradigm is rarely challenged, because it has always been presented as truth, and taken as such. But it is a narrative that is one-dimensional, always inadequate and at times completely incorrect. Take for example the widely accepted "fact" that our Indian community's roots lie in a large number of Indians being brought over as labourers by the British colonial authorities from the sub-continent. I do not doubt that many of them were brought over as labourers, but the Malay archipelago's links with India have existed many centuries before the British came, and even before Malacca flourished. We have ruins of Indian settlements in our country that predate the Malaccan sultanate. (This alone should put a stop to any highly offensive and fatuous remarks asking Indians to "go home"!)

Another example is how our beloved government keeps reminding us how their political forerunners, the founding fathers of Malaysia and their supporters who later formed the Alliance, "won" independence from the evil, evil British and how lucky we are to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Now, again, I am by no means discounting the importance of their actions in any way, they did of course contribute much. But what about the long and hard struggles of the Malayan left and their leaders, the thinkers, artists and writers, the Malayan labourers from all races, and (dare I say it?!) the Malayan Communists? Why are their contributions hardly mentioned? (No, we can't ever say anything nice about the Commies cause they're the worst baddies ever, as in worse than the British bad, right?!).

Another highly objectionable way of handling Malaysian history is to erase it or hide it. Witness the renaming of streets, places and entire towns which were given English names. Witness the destruction or neglect of colonial buildings. Witness the demonising of the British (but of course we are never as bad as them even if we use their gift lovely to us: the ISA). Witness the erasure or rejection of all things Western from our past.

We cannot hide our past, especially our colonial past, even if we tried. Its marks on us are only too obvious. We speak plenty of English (and not French, Dutch, Indonesian or Thai). Our laws were modeled after English and Indian laws (which were themselves modeled after English laws). Our courts are modeled after the court system of England. Our entire political system reflects the Westminster model. Our Federal Constitution bears the fingerprints of British drafters as much as it does the handwriting of Malayans. The British rule had (and has) a huge influence on the character, outlook and make up of our country. This is not to discount nor justify the obvious atrocities and grave injustices of colonialism, but what I'm saying is this: why try to deny or hide what simply cannot be denied or hidden? Why not just come to terms with it?

Which is where Dr. Farish A Noor, (since I'm talking so much about him here I thought I might as well feature his site) and Dr. Yusseri Yusoff come in. They have set up The Other Malaysia, what they call a "resource site" for all those who, like me, "are interested in unearthing aspects of Malaysian history, politics and culture that have thus far been sidelined, marginalised or erased in the official historiography of the post-colonial state".

As a Malaysian, I'm very glad for their efforts, because the story of our country deserves far more than one version from one (clearly self-serving) story-teller. The writing (mostly articles by Farish) is always top-notch and informative, and the terms of usage are very liberal, so click on the post title to visit the site and enjoy learn.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Art for Grabs 5 & KL Alternative Bookfest

Last weekend I went to the Annexe Gallery for Art for Grabs, an arts and crafts fair where every item was priced below RM100. This was the second time I've came to the event and I managed to collect a few bits and pieces. It was nice to be around some creative energy after a long dearth. Of course the obligatory expats-in-yoga-attire and arts scene eccentrics were loudly and proudly there.

Running alongside Art for Grabs was the KL Alternative Bookfest, which featured indie publishers, self-published books and NGO booths. It was encouraging to see high quality Malaysian publishing en masse at the event—Malaysian writing is definitely seeing a slow but sure renaissance. I bought Amir Muhammad's Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things Vol.2 at the Bookfest and since he was there, got him to personally sign it (yay!).

Of course, he wasn't the only member of the Malaysian intelligentsia at the event. Now, I'll have to warn you that I'm going to be shallower than a petri dish and name drop shamelessly here, but please bear with me 'cause it's not often I get to do this. I spotted: Elizabeth Wong, Nat Tan, Huzir Sulaiman (really wanted to say hi but he vanished when I tried to look for him), Marion D'Cruz, Fahmi Fadzil, Charlene Rajendran...the list could go on.

Along with Art for Grabs, the Annexe Gallery organised a slew of book launches, performances, activities and lectures throughout the weekend at what they called the "Bilik Panas" (Hot Room). Sadly, I missed Dr. Farish A Noor's talk on batik, but luckily managed to catch the cleverly named "Reading Lolita in KL", a reading session of banned texts throughout the ages organised by Sisters in Islam.

(Warning: more name dropping ahead!)
Marina Mahathir, Shanon Shah, Cecil Rajendra, Chi Too, Fahmi Fadzil and Rahmat Haron were amongst those who read aloud poetry, scientific texts, religious verses, fiction, plays and political writing under torch-lights and table lamps (the darkness was meant to emphasize the clandestine nature of the experience I guess).

Particularly humourous were Fahmi Fadzil's reading of a Huzir Sulaiman play, where some original lines were compared to amendments requested from DBKL (to allow the play to be performed publicly), Chi Too's reading of Rushdie's The Satanic Verses's opening paragraphs, as well as letters from authorities informing publishers that their books are banned.

On one of the room walls was a projection of various excerpts from local laws which have been used by the authorities to ban or control the distribution of "objectionable" printed material, including the dreaded Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984 (what journalists call the PPPA), and behind those flashing excepts was a list of books (in much smaller font) banned by the government. More items were added to the list as more excerpts were read aloud and by the end of the session, the list had filled the entire screen.

Funnily enough, Lolita was not read, but it was an interesting event nonetheless, and a reminder that Malaysia still has freedoms which her citizens must fight for to enjoy. Well done, Sisters in Islam, and well done Annexe Gallery—I'm looking forward to the next Art for Grabs.