Saturday, 30 May 2009


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!

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.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Please Read This: A million 13 Mays

Year in, year out, Malaysians are reminded of the tragic events of 13 May 1969, and made to repent for the sins of our forefathers and foremothers. Like a restless ghost, we cannot get past this date without a sense of foreboding and the fear that one day, the past will revisit the present in no uncertain terms.

To add to our fear, the country's leaders (though they tend to be those on one side of the political fence) are wont to resurrect May 1969 whenever it suits them most, and to frame the event in a decidedly jaundiced aspect. We are told time and again that to demand political freedom, the right to speak, the right to believe, the right to love, will lead us down the path that ends in the impasse of communal bloodshed and violence.

But does it and will it?
By Dr. Farish Noor, on The Nut Graph.
Click on post title to visit link.
Thanks for the link, GJ.


I am not happy right now: sore throat, involuntarily stuck at home, which is extremely noisy, and most of all, swimming in my own dark thoughts. It's been like this since Monday morning. Hence no posts.

Tomorrow will be a better day. Because tomorrow I'm going out, regardless. I'm going to watch two movies for some escapism. God knows I need it.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Dear World (again),
To all the wonderful mothers out there, Happy Mother's Day! You are truly cornerstones of society, torchbearers of humanity, wellsprings of love and wisdom.
Thank you.


Saturday, 9 May 2009

Happy Wesak Day

Dear World,
Sorry this is late, just got back from town. Knackered.

To all the Buddhists out there, Happy Wesak Day!
This year's celebration (in Malaysia) has the slogan: "Religious Understanding for a Harmonious Society". Not just tolerance, but understanding!


PS. Very very sorry for not wishing you Happy Labour Day/May Day. So Happy Belated Labour Day too! I hope you reflected on the meaning and history of Labour Day!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

(Yiddish) Quote of the Week

When you need salt, sugar is useless.
Yiddish Saying. very true!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Inaugural Jukebox: Divas!

Thanks to YouTube and the people who use it, I can now bring to the blog another feature: Jukebox. With a name like that, it's are pretty self-explanatory, right? The idea is to embed videos of music (or music videos) I like, and each post will have a theme of sorts.

The first theme is 'Divas!' in honour of the strong women and mothers out there (and in my life). The singers here aren't as famous as the more well-known divas of the music world (Mariah, Whitney, Beyoncé, Madonna, et al), but they are no less gifted or entertaining.

First, we have the lovely Ms. Norah Jones, singing "Lonestar".

And then the talented Ms. Donna Murphy, belting out "Hit Me With A Hot Note".

The amazing Ms. Audra McDonald with "Moon River".

Now, the incomparable Ms., or rather Dame, Judi Dench, singing "Send in the Clowns". She's obviously far better known for her acting than her singing, but she proves by this song that she can blend the two quite well.

And the one and only Ms. Bernadette Peters singing "Sooner or Later".

And finally, Ms. Norah Jones again, with "I've Got To See You Again". And yes, you really ought to see these ladies again. Go check out their other stuff.

I wanted to include Barb Jungr as well, but the only videos of her either couldn't be embedded or had poor sound quality. Anyway, you can Google/YouTube search her on your own. She's brilliant.

Hope you enjoyed this. Your feedback and suggestions (for themes perhaps) would be appreaciated.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Death of a Salesman

I read Arthur Miller's celebrated play the other week and could understand why it was so highly praised when it was first written. It certainly has its moments of brilliance and I'm sure it was considered highly original back then, but I have to say it left me depressed. Well, I was stupid to have even thought any other outcome was possible—it's called Death of a Salesman for goodness' sake! Not the type of play you take your little kids to watch. It's steeped in gloom from the very first scene, its humour is dark, and all the main characters are deeply flawed in one way or another.

The play's protagonist, Willy Loman, is a small fry itinerant huckster who has passed his prime but is still trying to make it big. He faces the crushing fact that the endless rat-race he's in has made him nothing but a rat, but his pride prevents him from accepting this, and thus he is driven to suicide attempts, depression and madness. He's basically losing control of his life and, slowly but surely, his mind. (Definitely not a play to take your kids to).

His descent into lunacy is a unnervingly tragic: as more past occurrences, choices and mistakes come to haunt his mind and take over his thinking, he simultaneously falls out of his present reality. His plunge to the bottom is not one of a hero or king, but the fall of an ordinary man; it is the play which amplifies his life and problems into epic proportions. Miller's amplification is not always subtle and can drive the play into the territory of melodrama, but at other times it is convincing enough.

There's plenty of human tension in the play, just like that found in Miller's The Crucible, which I read when I was much younger (I didn't even notice any of the play's political issues then). The focus here however, is familial tension, and of course people in my generation can relate more directly and immediately to this than the witch-hunting frenzy of The Crucible. Biff, Willy's eldest son, fails to meet family expectations and can't "find himself" because he has always been defined by his parents', and in particular his father's, beliefs, dreams and desires for him. He turns out unsure of his place in the world, a kleptomaniac, and cannot make consistent his own wishes and faults with the grand schemes and bloated perceptions his elders have laid before him. And he pisses off his dad a lot. Happy, Willy's second son, copes by instead exalting his own underperformance into lies of excellence; he simply doesn't try hard and pretends what he's got is good enough. (See why I can relate to them?). The family dynamics of the Lomans come into focus, and in many ways this "typical" American family is used as a vehicle to demonstrate the effects of soceital changes on ordinary people.

What truly struck me however, was how relevant the play seems, especially in today's global economic climate. The play could have practically been written yesterday when you examine the theme! Half a century after he was created, Willy Loman is still to be found walking everywhere in America (and the world over), grasping at his dying (American) dreams of success even as he loses his job and faces mounting financial problems. The speech and slang may have evolved since the play's time, but its theme is still fresh, the issues it raises still urgent, and the emotions it conjures still raw and real, even if the manner of presentation isn't.

I also notice that Willy's job is not completely elaborated: we know he sells in towns around New England (against his will because he would prefer to work nearer to home in New York), but we don't know what his product is, nor the name of his company. Really, I don't think his job was of great importance: it could have been the death of a steno, a lawyer, a writer, an accountant, bank manager, whatever. The point was, like many men, he was not getting from his job what he wanted, and his trying to change things only makes matters worse.

Another observation: Willy idolised Dave Singleman, a successful, well respected and well liked salesman whose funeral was attended by hundreds of salesmen and buyers. Singleman was the salesman's salesman of Willy's world, and this immediately reminded me of the lawyer's lawyers, the doctor's doctors, the banker's bankers, the writer's writers of our world: the leaders of our industries. Willy unfortunately never reached the success or popularity of Singleman, but what was even more unfortunate was that he believed he could. Miller gave no sympathy here: Willy, like us, deluded himself into thinking he could be a big hot like Singleman, when there really isn't much room at the top, and the journey is often impossible.

Willy Loman was clearly meant to be the Everyman of his day, and after half a century, most of the men he symbolised have kicked the bucket. Yet their children have grown up to face the same problems their fathers faced—history has cruelly repeated itself. Their fathers' disillusionment and delusion, their frustrations and failing families, exemplified by Willy, have come full circle, and are now own. Willy Loman's children had to deal with the ill-effects of their fathers misplaced beliefs and overblown dreams, just as they themselves were brought up to believe in the effectiveness of their father's approach to life and their own limitless potential, only to face a world far less convinced.

Biff and Happy were the Everychild of that time, and they had to deal with the failures of their parents' generation, just as they themselves have to see the dreams their parents presented them crumble in front of their eyes. With irony in mythical proportions, theirs' is a double tragedy: they were Biffs and Happys but have grown up to be Willy Lomans, and so the play lives on.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Blog & Roll: Desire to Inspire

I know I didn't really put up a Blog & Roll post last week, but since I linked other stuff, I think I can be forgiven. Anyway, I've concluded that the best approach to Blog & Roll is to try to put it up at least once a week without setting any particular day for it to appear. This allows me greater freedom to feature blogs without actually the whole thing turning into a chore.

Anyway, this week's blog du jour is Desire to Inspire. If you've ever read an expensive interior design magazine and wished your home could at least bear even a remote resemblance to the gorgeous houses found inside, the feast your eyes on this blog: it's bound to make you feel that way, but amplified a hundredfold.

Click on the post title to visit and enjoy.