Saturday, March 31, 2007

ISTANBUL | Just back from Topaki

Hullos! Just came back from a tour of the Topaki Palace - did a tour of the harem of the palace, which is not as lavish as I've expected. The guide pointed out of the the misconception of the harem - harem simply meant "place forbidden to men without Sultan" - so it's not the hotpit of lust and debauchery we were led to believe by over-imaginative Orientalists. A lot of the harem ladies served the noble ladies, and some of them were allowed to marry Ottoman court officials if they wish.

Here's the cool bit: Retirement age for the harem ladies was 30 - whereby they will then be given a pension, and allowed to leave service. Actually, this sounds really good.

The highlight of the tour is actually the treasures of the Ottoman empire - in particular the holy relics of the Prophet Mohammad. No photo-taking were allowed, so sorry - no picture to upload. There was a cleric chanting the Koran in the exhibition room as we toured - in an orderly and respectful fashion - the exhibits. There was the sword of Mohammad, his bow, the banner of the army campaigning Allah's cause. These are the artifacts used in historic battles for Islam, and they are all there in the room. There was also a footprint impression of Mohammed on stone. In a way, it's like being in the same room with the cross of Calvary.

I'm maxed out on museum visits today. Will be heading downtown later, Beyoglu, which is where the hip places are.

Just a few observations in case anyone wants to visit Istanbul - and you should if you want to - don't let the naysayers stop you. You only live once, and as long as you are careful and sensible, you will be just fine. A lot of backpackers around, and we're all trying to figure things out on our own. But tourists will definitely be accosted by a lot of shopkeepers, trying to solicit business. They're just trying to make a living, so we usually just try to be civil but move briskly on.

But the things around Istanbul are more expensive than the other parts of Turkey. In Selcuk, a glass of Turkish tea cost 0.50 YTL (YTL = new Turkish lira), but it could be anything from 2.00-3.00 YTL in Istanbul. And 5.00 YTL for a glass of fresh orange juice! (I need the vitamin C) I exchanged 300.00 USD for 411.00 YTL, so that may give you an idea of the exchange rate. All transactions can be done in Turkish currency - and tickets are paid for in YTL only. Some travel guides give us the impression you can only use Euros or US dollars. Not true at all.

The food here is not spicy at all - which was not what I was expecting. In need of spicer fare, we went to an Indian restaurant this afternoon. For the vegetarian, you will survive - although probably on a lot of carbs. So the Atkins diet is OUT. For vegans, there's yoghurt and cheese in many of the Turkish dishes, so that may be a problem. And the lamb doners - they smell really good and they make for good (and cheaper) meals if you are on the go.

Great thing about my hostel - the people here are nice - there's always someone who speaks English and so far, not too noisy. But may be worse around April when the tourist season peaks.

Oh, and there's a Istanbul film festival here right now, so film bluffs that we are, we're hoping to catch a few movies. But subtitles are in Turkish. Ha!

I feel like I'm a travel scout for anyone interested in coming here.

Friday, March 30, 2007

ISTANBUL | Just in from Pamukkale

Hi Everyone. I've just came back this morning from Pamukkale. They have these beautiful limestone formations that I love. Pictures will have to come later - when I return.

I'm blogging from Antique Hostel, in Sultanahmet - which is the heart of the Istanbul tourist area. At least I have hot water shower. Oh, how I miss hot showers.

Am I enjoying myself? Let's just say the price of adventure is having to put yourself through a fair bit of physical discomfort. I have not had a decent night's sleep for four nights - having to shuttle between the different parts of Turkey, and the flight in. I know I will look back on this with fond memory - but meanwhile, I'm trying to remind myself why I'm doing this. :)

We just used the metro and the local tram service to get to the hostel. So if we explore further, we should be able to utilise the public transport service to get us further around Istanbul.

Did we have any problem in Turkey? Actually, we've no problem getting around. There's always been someone willing to help us out - as long as we're willing to ask. In fact, a lot of Turkish people speak English, and when they don't, there's always someone around who will come up to help interpret. Turkey is not the hotbed of crime that some of the travel agencies have led us to believe, ironically. So, right now we're safe and sound. Sleep deprived and a little hungry. I just had a hot shower, and my friend is oddly asking for Thai food. Huh? It is 5:09 pm in Istanbul time, and I'll drop by later.

Everyone have fun.

Monday, March 26, 2007


I'm waiting for the ride to the airport. So here I am, restless, and I started thinking about the circumstances that led me to desire to travel to Istanbul.

I was in Rome in 2002 and it was a moving experience. It is a modern city, with beautiful Italian men and women, and the best of them work as waiters. We flirted furiously with a waiter who looked like Vin Diesel and who spoke perfect English. I love walking down their cobbled streets during the rain, where there are inscriptions still written in Latin, legacy of their Roman past. This is the birthplace of the greatest western empire that ever was. Culture and history as we know it would be different if not for the Romans. Rome was a city where old and new time overlapped, and you are at risk of losing your sense of chronology if you are not careful. Walking downtown, we would find ourselves walking into an ancient temple dedicated to Athena; the city was excavating for a new subway when they unearthed the temple. Now it is cornered off as an archeological site, forbidden to all but the cats. Nothing else was mentioned of the subway that was supposed to be built.

This is the miracle that is Rome. Dig at random and you may find something at your peril.

I had decided back then that I wanted to see Turkey, especially the city that was Byzantium.

Byzantium was just a semi-barbaric Greek city-state on the Bosphorus when Emperor Constantine founded the city as a new imperial capital, and named NOVA ROMA CONSTANTINOPOLITANA, 'New Rome, the City of Constantine.' (not very humble, these emperors). The city was meant to serve as the new Rome, from which the Emperor would survey the Danube and the Euphrates.

But the glories of the Roman Empire waned, and as the rest of the empire fell to the barbarians, the influence of the Greco-Roman would almost be extinguished. The long nights of the Dark Ages had begun.

Through the centuries the city faced civil wars and external invaders – including the Crusaders (who conquered it for a while.) It finally fell to the Ottoman army, led by Sultan Mehmet II.

The Sultan made his triumphant entry into the city on Tuesday 29 May, 1453. He was proclaimed Fatih, the Conqueror – a name by which he would hereforth be known. He had captured the fabled city of Istanbul.

That day, Sultan Mehmet II rode straight to Haghia Sophia. When he was there he dismounted and fell to his knees. He sprinkled a handful of earth over his turban as a sign of humility, then he ordered the church be converted to Islamic worship, under the name of Aya Sofya Camii Kabir, the Great Mosque of Haghia Sophia.

And so yet another narrative of history is laid upon the city. Until now.

These Spartan Women

I was totally taken with the beautiful men (and woman - Lena Headey!) while watching 300. But it's just such a shame we see so little of the women - certainly not enough of Lena Headey. Found this interesting bit of titbit about the Spartan women:

Spartan dances were famous for their vitality. In one particularly athletic version, women had to jump up and drum their buttocks with their heels as many times as possible. It was incredibly difficult,but most importantly for the ancients, it revealed a large amount of naked thigh. This is probably where Spartan girls earned their nickname: 'thigh-flashers.' As part of their state education, the thigh-flashers would go down to the banks of the Eurotas river for what one poet described as the 'nichta di ambrosias' – the ambrosial nights. The poet goes on to evoke scenes of ritual ecstatic dances and choral contests – the girls singing to each other of limb-loosening desire, tossing their longhair, being ridden like horses and exhausted by love. It's no surprise that Sparta was one of the few ancient cities that had the reputation for encouraging girl-on-girl sex. Women and men there were used to living separate lives.

They don't just give birth to real men.

Via here

Sunday, March 25, 2007

POETRY | Number 20

"Number 20",
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Taken from the collection, A Coney Island of the Mind

The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
with unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! too soon!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

POETRY | Only The Past Is Immortal

... Only the past is immortal.
Decide to take a trip, read books of travel
Go quickly! Even Socrates is mortal
Mention the name of happiness: it is
Atlantis, Ultima Thule, or the limelight,
Cathay or Heaven. But go quickly

~ "Personae," Delmore Schwartz

BOOKS | The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn
By Peter S. Beagle
[03/03/2007 ~ 19/03/2007]

I was hoping to read The Last Unicorn for Carl. V's much anticipated Fantasy/Fairy Tale Challenge. But latest news is the challenge will only kick off next week, and I wouldn't be in town. Well, maybe next year, Carl. Or I'll be back for the later part of it.

But hey, I don't need an excuse for reading a book. For those of you mature enough to recall the animated film adaptation of The Last Unicorn - this is the original novel on which the picture drew from. Peter S. Beagle himself wrote the script and it remains one of the most memorable animated films of my childhood - right next to The Flight of Dragons. My reading of the novel is overlaid with my memories of the animated film.

I would like to say that I was a precocious child and recognised the subtle meanings in the story of The Last Unicorn ― but I'm not. Reading the novel now as an adult, I realised for the first time how self-aware the story really was. It is more than a story about a unicorn on a quest for her kind. It is a meditation on our idea of fairy tales itself.

The story starts off with the unicorn one day overhearing a couple of hunters talking. The hunters speak of how there are no more unicorn in the world. It was then that the unicorn realises she was the last unicorn in the world and she sets out to find her own kind. Later a butterfly reveals that the Red Bull has taken the unicorns, and so she sets to look for the Red Bull. On the way she was kidnapped by the people at the Fortuna's Midnight Carnival ― which claims to show mythic creatures from all around for a price. Mommy Fortuna uses illusion to disguise ordinary animals as mythic creatures ― and the crowd came face to face with the last unicorn in the world, and they could not recognise her; they see only the illusion.

Working for Mommy Fortuna is Schmendrick the Magician, who is totally inept. His magic never works the way he wants them to. His master, Nikos the great magician decides to place Schmendrick under a curse - that he shall never age or die until he comes to his power. The last unicorn did not believe him at first when he offered to help her escape, but Schmendrick tells her:

"It's a rare man who is taken for what he truly is," he said. "There is much misjudgement in the world. Now, I knew you for a unicorn when I first saw you, and I know that I am your friend. Yet you take me for a clown, or a clod, or a betrayer, and so must I be if you see me so. The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in you eyes."

This is the failure of our lives - the failure to recognise truth. We lost the ability to recognise magic that laid in front of us clear as day. Ours is the "enchantment of error." Perhaps Schmendrick explains it better when they finally found the rest of the unicorns, captured by the Red Bull for King Haggard:

"... It's not enough to be ready to see ― you have to be looking all the time."

That is the problem of the world ― we stopped looking for magic long ago. But there are the very few who never cease to look, and maybe they are the saddest of all. I remember the character of Molly Grue from the film long ago. Molly ran off to join Captain Cully when she was young, believing in the fairy tale of Robin Hood and imagining herself a sort of Maid Marian. Reality was less pretty. She grew older, jaded and tired. Then one day her path crosses Schmendrick and the unicorn. Her response when she finally saw the unicorn stayed with me vividly:

But Molly pushed him aside and went up to the unicorn, scolding her as though she were a strayed milk cow. "Where have you been?" Before the whiteness and the shining horn, Molly shrank to a shrilling beetle, but this time it was the unicorn's old dark eyes that looked down.

"I am here now," she said at last.

Molly laughed with her lips flat. "And what good is it to me that you're here now? Where were you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?" With a flap of her hand she summed herself up: barren face, desert eyes, and yellowing heart. "I wish you had never come. Why do you come now?" The tears began to slide down the sides of her nose.

The unicorn made no reply, and Schmendrick said, "She is the last. She is the last unicorn in the world."

"She would be." Molly snifed. "It would be the last unicorn in the world that came to Molly Grue." She reached up then to lay her hand on the unicorn's cheek; but both of them flinched a little, and the touch came to rest on the swift, shivering place under the jaw. Molly said, "It's all right. I forgive you."
There are the dreamers that continue to look for the magic and the miracle. And what happened to Molly Grue was that even as she grew old and bitter, a bit of her innocence still remained ― cynicism is often the disillusionment of innocence. But why did the magic not come into her life in her youth, when it might have meant something? All we can do is to accept the gift when it comes, even if it may be late.

Schmendrick, Molly Grue and the last unicorn finally came to Haggard's castle to look for the Red Bull, which holds the key to where are all the unicorns. But the Red Bull finds the unicorn first, and he pursues her. To save her, Schmendrick tries his magic, and transforms her into a beautiful woman. And because this is a fairy tale, we have a Prince, Lir ― King Haggard's adopted son ― who falls in love with her. He becomes the Hero, and the unicorn woman become the Princess. So the story is staged, the cast filled for a quest, a romance.

At the end all is fulfilled. The unicorns are saved, the castle of Haggard collapsed, Schmendrick came to his powers and and the armour of ageless immortality fell from him; the unicorn returned to her original form. But unicorns are immortal and therefore cannot cry or regret. The time the unicorn spent as a human woman has changed her, so that she will always have one regret.

So the story ends. Peter S. Beagle told a beautiful, intelligent story and what it says about the magic of our lives is tremendous. It is also a meditation on stories and the part we play in shaping the stories of our lives.

But as I researched the story online, I came across how Peter S. Beagle was never paid what he was promised for the movie adaptation of The Last Unicorn. He is still in a legal dispute over the royalties and screenwriting fees. So, to help out the writer a little, here is the statement from Conlan Press:

On February 6, 2007, Lionsgate Entertainment is releasing a special 25th Anniversary DVD of THE LAST UNICORN. This new edition is a huge improvement over the old one. It is digitally remastered so it looks great and has 5.1 audio, it is widescreen instead of fullscreen, it has much better packaging, and it comes with special features, including a video interview with Peter. Best of all, Lionsgate has agreed to let us sell copies of the DVD through Conlan Press, and more than half of each sale will go straight to Peter and his projects. If you plan on buying this DVD, please buy it here — because Peter will get nothing from copies sold through any other outlet.

Also visit Peter S. Beagle’s MySpace

Friday, March 23, 2007

Big Thank You

Need to post this before I leave. Amy Spangler has very nicely shared me with some Turkish musicians I should check out while I'm there. I would like to share this with anyone interested:

Selim Sesler's music is elegant, but Aylin Aslim - now, her I like. I wonder if her music is available through

Amy just translated Asli Erdogan's The City in Crimson Cloak for Soft Skull Press. The novel will be released later this year and I've already listed it as one of my "Must Check Out" new releases.

Asli Erodgan also has a short story, Wooden Birds, on Words Without Borders. Just in case you would like to check out her writing before picking up the novel.

PS: Among the many things I discovered through this blog is how sweet people can be to someone they have never met (ie. ME). Since I've posted on my interest in Turkish literature and about the forthcoming Turkey trip, many people have written me to offer useful tips, suggestions for books to read and some have even asked their friends Turkey travel advice on my behalf. It's this kind of generosity and kindness that warms you up inside. Maybe there is hope for the world yet.

To everyone who have either written me or dropped a comment on this blog: A Big Thank You.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Yay Me!

I love my family doctor. I was concerned about the pain at the side of my right ribcage for a while now. My company doctor just prescribe painkillers and muscle relaxant. But it has been 2 weeks and it has not subsided.

This evening I went to my family doctor - the man who took care of my whole family since I was a toddler - and he prodded the painful area, and told me as it's near my kidney he wanted to do a urine test.

As my mother had recently been informed she has too much glucose in her urine and yet more tests need to be done - I was very apprehensive about the urine test. But the results just came back and it's good. So it's probably just a pulled muscle or something. Nothing to be worried about.

So now I can go to Turkey with peace of mind, although the doctor did say no heavy lifting. I'll have to lighten my backpack a little.

I love my family doctor. May he live long and be healthy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

BOOKS | Penguin Great Journeys

We interrupt the normal scheduled ramblings for these announcements. Penguin recently released their Penguin Great Journeys series. It offers sample chapters from 20 classic travelogues by famous travelers. You probably have seen it at your local bookstores.

I've received some of the titles as free samples. For those who appreciate the travelogues of the old days - these are great bite-size readings. There is something romantic about these golden age travellers who ventured into unchartered lands before technology and capitalism drained the adventure and discovery out of the travel experience. They did not have the advantage we the modern travellers have take for granted. A lot of them are literally risking life and limbs in their journeys. Their experience seems somehow the richer for what they had to lose.

Of particular personal interest are the Chekhov, Mary Wortley Montagu, Isabella Bird and Thesiger pieces. But I could buy the whole set anyway because they all seem so interesting.

The Complete List:

  1. Snakes with Wings and Gold-digging Ants, Herodotus
  2. From The Meadows of Gold, Masudi
  3. The Customs of the Kingdoms of India, Marco Polo
  4. The Shipwrecked Man, Cabeza De Vaca
  5. Piracy, Turtles and Flying Foxes, William Dampier
  6. Life on the Golden Horn, Mary Wortley Montagu
  7. Hunt for the Southern Continent, James Cook
  8. Sold as a Slave, Olaudah Equianp
  9. Jaguars and Electric Eels, Alexander Von Humboldt
  10. To the Holy Shrines, Richard Burton
  11. In the Heart of the Amazon Forest, Walter Henry Bates
  12. Borneo, Celebes, Aru, Alfred Russel Wallace
  13. Can-cans, Cats and Cities of Ash, Mark Twain
  14. Adventures in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella Bird
  15. A Journey to the End of the Russian Empire, Anton Chekhov
  16. The Congo and the Cameroons, Mary Kingsley
  17. Escape from the Antarctic, Ernest Shackleton
  18. Fighting in Spain, George Orwell
  19. Across the Empty Quarter, Wilfred Thesiger
  20. The Cobra's Heart, Ryszard Kapuscinski

FILM | Pirates of the Caribbean 3 Trailer

The trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is out. I lovelovelovelove the first one. It reaffirms everything I lovelovelove about Johnny Depp. The second, not so love - because it has too much Keira, not enough Johnny, and not enough story. I'm hoping for the best for this third installment. Let's keep the fingers crossed.

BUYING BOOKS | Ferlinghetti and West

Trying out my dad's camera, so here's the book purchases of the day (the duckie is just something sitting at my desk):

1. A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
I've been hoping to pick up Lawrence Ferlinghetti for the longest time.This is the first collection of his that I'm finally going to read. There's something I admire about his bohemian spirit and his insistence that poetry and literature are mainstream and relevant in our lives. Now into his 80s, he's still very much engaged in the arts and culture scene. You can say his whole life is the arts.

I've set aside 24th March to read this collection - because it is Ferlinghetti's birthday - as it is mine.

2. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia, by Rebecca West
A lot of book bloggers have been raving about Rebecca West for a while. Since Penguin Classics has a new edition of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon out, so I thought I check it out. I was not prepared for all 1181 pages of it though. Amazon described it as "[p]art travelogue, part history, part love letter on a thousand-page scale" - and something of a Balkan Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I love history on an epic scale, and I'm waiting to set aside time for this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

TURKEY | Onwards the Day Approaches

The Blue Mosque/Sultanahmet Camii

The date approaches for the trip to Turkey. I will be in Istanbul on the 26th of March, 2007. I am packed to go, which is worrying, because I usually take a lot longer to pack. I keep wondering if I left anything out. Oh well, I'll have to buy what I need in Turkey, or just go without it.

But now for the Most Important Question: What book/s shall I bring to Turkey?

This is a life or death decision, because the wrong book - a dull book, will mean unnecessary suffering.

If you're stuck in an airport and your plane is 3 hours late, you want a book that will keep your mind off the fact you're in a large confined space, the seats are uncomfortable and you need a bath.

If you're on a plane for 8 hours, and the idiot behind you is kicking the back of your seat, you want a book that will absorb you 100% - because otherwise you're going to throttle the idiot.

But when you're in a nice coffee place in Istanbul, and the view is beautiful, you're watching the people stroll by - you want the book you're reading to reflect well on you. And in the event a beautiful Turkish young man/woman comes up to you to chit-chat, you do not want to be caught reading Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

But it should also be sufficiently light, so your daypack will not be too heavy. But it should be thick enough to last the length of your stay. Substantial but light in weight. Oh, the dilemma.

The Shortlist:

  1. In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin
    Because he's always walking, and he tells stories. And because Bruce Chatwin first made me realise I have to travel to walk off my own restlessness.
  2. Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It, Geoff Dyer
    Because I'm reading him now, and I don't want to stop. But it's a library book, so there's a guilt-factor for me to take library books overseas.
  3. The Cornish Trilogy, Robertson Davies
    It is sufficiently thick to last the long trip, and beyond. But it's THICK. However, I know I can rely on my travel companion for quickie Robertson Davies chit-chat anytime, since she's the one that introduced me to Davies.
  4. Sodom and Gomorrah, Marcel Proust
    I really need to get back on track with the Proustian Epic, and reading Proust in a coffeeshop can only enhance one's public image. But do you think the title will be suggestive?

In light of the political situation, I'm not bringing Orhan Pamuk or Elif Shafak. I will however, be bringing the manual for the digital camera I borrowed from my dad: Canon PowerShot with 10 Megapixel. Now I just need to learn how to use it quick.

Monday, March 19, 2007

MUSIC | Rachael Yamagata "I Wish You Love"

I'm still on my Rachael Yamagata flush. Been playing her songs on my mpeg player to work, and when I am home, I play her CD. This video here is the Rachael Yamagata cover for "I Wish You Love" - played at the end of the movie Prime, which starred Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep. More mellow than her usual fare, but subdued palettes have their own beauty.

YOGA | Back to Gita

I've not been attending yoga classes for the past week. I have been taking a break because of the pain on my back. But a few days ago I felt better and I tried some standard poses, like Revolved Side Angle Pose but with the advance hand-binds. I think I pulled something on my right side as there is now a sharp pain that refuses to subside. Talk about an exercise in bull-headed stupidity.

I think my backaches may not just be the King Cobra I attempted two Fridays ago. For the past few months I have been pushing myself in my spinal twists. The pain is probably a cumulative effort of all the heavy-duty spine work.

Just a clarification: It's not about the style of yoga I do or who was teaching the class. While it is important to have a mindful teacher that looks out for you, we have to take responsibility for our practice. It is my practice, no one else's. I was impatient and went too far, too fast in my practice. And of course my refusal to rest delayed my recovery.

I was looking forward to my inversion class ― and most of all the new Anusara class they launched last week ― but as one of my teacher reminds us, we have our whole life to practice.

But this doesn't mean I'm not agitated. I'm trying to use this time to take stock on what I have neglected in my practice. Last year I had intended to re-read the Bhagavad Gita, but this time the Stephen Mitchell translation. As best laid plans went, it didn't happen. I'm putting the Gita back on my 100 Books To Read 2007. If anything, my pulled muscles is evidence I need to learn the lesson of effort without expectations. I was too caught up with achieving the "perfect pose" - I forgot yoga was never about how you look, but it is the journey towards self.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna:

You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a an established within himself - without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.

As Mahatma Gandhi explains it:

By detachment I mean that you must not worry whether the desired result follows from your action or not, so long as your motive is pure, your means correct. Really, it means that things will come right in the end if you take care of the means and leave the rest to Him.

But for Gandhi, renunciation:

... in no way means indifference to the result. In regard to every action one must know the result that is expected to follow, the means thereto, and the capacity for it. He who, being thus equipped, is without desire for the result and is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfillment of the task before him, is said to have renounced the fruits of his action.

Paradox seems to be the essence of yoga. It demands that you always try your best, but simultaneously demanding that you relinquish claims to the results of your good works. The effort itself is supposed to be purifying. Without expectations, only then is one truly able to act wholeheartedly for the benefit of all. But that is so hard to do, to be so centred in right action. It requires that leap of faith, trust in the unfolding of karma. I sometimes wonder if I possess enough faith for someone so ordinary.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

BOOKS | Horizontal Drift

Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It

I've just started reading Geoff Dyer's Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It. It was easy reading, and I hope I will enjoy it as I continue. I'm at a loss as to the unifying theme of this book, as in a post-Seinfeld kind of way, this book seems to be about something, but also about nothing in particular.

The first essay, "Horizontal Drift" - has Geoff Dyer accounting his short stay in New Orleans. In 1999 he had an apartment on the Esplanade, just beyond the French Quarters. A young man, Donelly moved into the apartment next door, and his backstory is interesting: on April Fool's Day 1987, he found out he had skin cancer and the doctor prognosed a 30/70 chance of survival. That was four years before Donelly met Geoff Dyer and he had survived a series of operations, "sufficiently full of life to try, five months before we met, to kill himself."

According to Donelly, "It wasn't like I was depressed or anything. I didn't even want to die particularly. I just didn't want to live any more." And it seems Donelly's case study was perplexing to his doctors at the mental home where he was treated for his attempted suicide.

I guess one could say this story is about a friendship lost?

All this means, I suppose, is that he was my friend. Living as I have, in many different cities, in different countries, I've got used to making new friends at an age when many people are living off the diminishing stockpile amassed at university, when they were nineteen or twenty. It's one of the things about the way I've lived that has made me happiest, and maybe the only reason I'm telling this story ― this non-story ― is to record the simple fact that in New Orleans,a town where we knew hardly anyone, Donelly and I became friends.

Dyer played with the idea of writing a book about Donelly's life. He saw the book as "a kind of parable, one without any lesson or moral, a parable from which it would be impossible to learn anything or draw any conclusions." Instead of a book, he wrote this essay.

Dyer has moved many times since New Orleans, and he lost touch with Donelly. He had no idea if Donelly had tried to contact him. From time to time he thought about trying to track Donelly down, but had no idea how to begin. This is what happens in life. Random strangers come into our lives, make an impression and then we lose them. Perhaps the point of Dyer's essay is about random encounters and how easily we lose them. Perhaps Dyer wrote this in compensation for a lost connection, and also of connection never made:

... the kind of feeling you get when you see a woman in the street, when your eyes meet for a moment but you make no effort to speak to her and then she is gone and you spend the rest of the day thinking that, had you spoken, she would have been pleased, not offended, and you would, perhaps, have fallen in love with each other. You wonder what her name have been. Angela perhaps. Instead of hopping the freight, I went back to my apartment on Esplanade and had the characters in the novel I was working on do so.

When you are lonely, writing can keep you company. It is also a form of self-compensation, a way of making up for things ― that did not quite happen.

This is my interpretation of it, at least. I was o the bus when I read Dyer's "non-story." And my mind wandered, as it often did on a long bus ride.

I was in Melbourne a few years ago with some people. It was December, but it was broad daylight by 5 am. I was usually awake by then. While my travel companions slept, I would make tea, read and meditate. Or at least I tried to meditate, because my mind was constantly disturbed by the thought of an old friend that I had lost touch with during my university days. Last I heard she had moved to Melbourne.

Let us call my friend Crazy S. (It's not flattering, but if you knew her then, you will agree it's suitable). I knew Crazy S. from high school, having struggled with puberty and the Awkward Age together. We lost touch for a while when I uprooted myself to another Junior College when I was 17. But during our university days, she got hold of my email address from a mutual friend. She had been studying in a university in Melbourne, but she emailed me on a regular basis. She bothered.

Crazy S. had always been headstrong. But she was also capable of great empathy and insight. While she was studying in Melbourne, she fell in love with an Engineering student, D. and they moved in together, in an apartment paid for by Crazy S.'s mother.

Crazy S. never told her mother about D. Then one day, during her study break, she flew back home with D. in tow. I was introduced to D. and that's when I learnt why D. was kept a secret. Anticipating the emotional upheaval that would soon follow, I stayed away.

Crazy S. and D. returned to Melbourne later. I learnt from mutual acquaintaince that Crazy S. and her mother quarrelled before she left. As Crazy S. had been emailing my university account, we lost touch when I graduated. I failed to follow-up with my personal email. I guess I just failed to stay in touch.

When I was in Melbourne a few years back, I wished I had made the effort to keep in touch with Crazy S. I would have liked to meet up with her and D. ― if they are still together. I wished to be able to apologise to them for my failure of loyalty and moral courage. And to tell her something else.

That time in Melbourne, when I was trying to meditate, my mind replayed what I wanted to say to Crazy S. if I should run into her. In one of the scenarios I did find her in Melbourne. We had dinner at her place, Crazy S. D. and I. And I told Crazy S. that D. must possess the patience of a saint to put up with my friend for so long. I imagined telling her about my relationships since we last met ― and I imagined her being sympathetic and ironic at the same time.

When you are lonely, writing can keep you company. It is also a form of self-compensation, a way of making up for things ― that did not quite happen.

Maybe that was what my mind had been doing then, writing and re-writing as a form of compensation.I was trying to make up for the things I failed to do, trying to compensate for the things not done.

MUSIC | Patti Smith and Hall of Fame

While we're on the topic of music, Patti Smith (one of my personal heroes) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Yes, as long as I'm still breathing, we will see posts on Patti Smith.

Her opening lines for "Gloria" (from the 1975 album, Horses) heralded her arrival as punk rock goddess:

"Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine"

These are the very lines that made me take notice and fall in love with Patti Smith, her music and mission. She is more than a performer/artiste; she is Punk Rock Prophetess. She was more than the nihilistic self-destruction of Sid Vicious and his likes. For me, Patti Smith's mission was about defiance against institutionalised authorities, rebellion as activism. Her purpose was admirable and even now she has not lose her idealism in pursuing what she believes in.

In an interview with Patti Smith on her induction, Smith explains the famous opening lines:

Did you have any idea in 1975 that the opening line of 'Gloria' would become as famous as it has?
[Laughs] No. First of all, I wrote the poem for 'Gloria' in 1970. I was brought up a Jehovah's Witness and I had a strong religious education and a very good Bible education. I left organized religion as a teenager because I felt it was too confining. When I wrote 'Gloria,' it wasn't really anti-Christ -- who I really admire -- it was anti the idea that everything was set up for us and we had to fall into a certain behavior based on how things were organized for us. If I was going to do things wrong, I didn't want anyone having to die for my sins -- I was going to take responsibility. It was really about personal and mental liberation. A writer called it a declaration of existence. To this day, I think that's the best description of that song, although I probably would not write the same lyric now because I've gone through a long process of evolution.

Also read what Patti Smith has to say about the induction into the Hall of Fame in an Op-Ed article for The New York Times.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

MUSIC | Rachael Yamagata Concert

Rachael Yamagata in Concert

Since I could only take a picture of Rachael Yamagata in concert with my substandard Sony Ericsson camera phone, you will just have to take my word for it that the picture above is really Rachael Yamagata.

Rachael Yamagata dived in with her first song, Letter Read. Dressed in all black, with her Pan-Asian face and her messy black bangs, she bellowed the angsty chorus: "my love, my love, how could you do this to me?" with all the aggressive energy that angry, young jilted females are known for. Sometimes described as "Janis Joplin mets Fiona Apple" - it's easy to stereotype Rachael Yamagata. Afterall, her songs are often pop-fusion renditions themed around heartbreaks and unhappy relationships. Someone in fact described her music as, "Musice to Slit Your Wrists To." But she remarked how she's always disappointing journalists that she's not the dark, depressed, wrist-slitting artiste that they often expect. The Rachael Yamagata that was onstage tonight was brassy, a little playful, a little naughty - a straight-shooter with a certain degree of self-awareness of her own romantic indulgences. She has a sardonic sense of humour that she peppers throughout the concert. She admits that humour is important, "or else we'll all be killing ourselves."

At one point a male voice from the audience cried out, "I LOVE YOU, RACHAEL!"

"What's your number?" she quipped. "We'll talk after the show." Later at the piano, she just said matter-of-factly, "We'll talk. You'll break my heart." Hmm. A sense of humour, but also a self-awareness of a jaded attitude to love. Throughout the concert she's constantly commenting on the abysmal state of her own romances.

She told the audience how one of the song she just performed was initially entitled, What About Steve - but she later felt people not named Steve might had problem relating to the song, so she came up with, What If I Leave?" She recommends it for those relationships when you can't decide to stay or leave:

"Just press 'PLAY' and watch him or her.

"Go on, leave. What the FUCK do I care?

"I'm sorry. I promised I wasn't going to swear. But I also have this policy about being true to myself."

And we the audience just applauded thunderously. And as a follow-up , "It's a song about a guy who dicked me over."

We love this girl. She's unpretentious - warts and all. And she's flirty with her audience - sluts that we are. Someone in fact called out, "I wish I know how to quit you, Rachael!"

As she introduces the next song she's going to sing, "It's on the EP. And EP stands for - " Embarrasing pause as she struggles to remember. She turns to her band members for help.

"Extended Play," she finally recalls. "I'm not sure why it's called 'Extended Play' when it's so short."

Rachael also jokes how after shooting her mouth off tonight, no one's going to mistake "this foul-mouthed, alcoholic, suicidal slut," to Norah Jones anymore. She describes Norah Jones as being "more classy." But she's happy just to have a little corner of her own universe.

My Two 'Happenstance' CDs

As you can see from the picture on the right, I now own 2 Happenstance CDs. How did that happen? I found out during the concert that there was going to be an autograph session after the concert. So I bought another copy of the CD just to get it signed.

The autograph session was only supposed to be 1 hour, but with the photo-taking, the hugging, and Rachael trying her best to exchange a few words with each and every fan, they had to extend the session - just so she could at least sign something for everyone.

She promises to come back. I hope she honours this promise. I will definitely be there.

Rachael Yamagata but more picture perfect

I had a lovely time tonight. To be honest, Rachael sounds a little raspy tonight, her voice cracking like a 12 year-old boy in mid-song at one point. But that did not diminish the pleasure of the concert. We come to the concert because we are already in love, and it is only to see the object of our affection upclose. Rachael Yamagata may not have won many new fans tonight but they will definitely look out for her next album and her future concerts.

Meanwhile, here's a lovely picture of Rachael Yamagata in case anyone is interested. Much better than my uploads, ya?

I love how she insists on writing her own bio for Happenstance on

Happenstance…the never can be…

Main Entry: hap·pen·stance; Etymology: happen + circumstance: A circumstance especially that is due to chance. - Merriam Webster Dictionary

I apologize for insisting on writing my own bio, but I just can not be satisfied with another’s account of my psyche when even I don’t understand it myself. Welcome to the world of this indecisive control freak hopeless romantic…

Happenstance, produced by John Alagia (John Mayer, Dave Matthews etc.), is a collection of songs inspired by my obsessions, often love related, but not always. It’s about the battle between chance circumstances and the belief that everything happens for a reason. The title and the back cover addition of ‘the never can be’ suggest that I’m not really endorsing chance, but, in fact insisting that there must be a reason for repeated broken hearts – perhaps a promise of a better situation, learning experience, the greater love etc. It’s a circular argument… and it’s merely a matter of ‘happenstance’ that the title is what it is anyway. Without the hopefulness of reason, how could anyone weather the highs and lows of relationships and this delightful junk called love.

Look to the second album for a more cynical approach in which it all goes to hell and nothing makes sense and chance is winning…

Favorite Film Adaptations of Books

From Literate Kitten’s Thoughts for Thursday.

Not Thursday, but I’m always a little behind.

1. The English Patient [Directed by Anthony Minghella]

It was the film where I had my crush on Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes. Thomas was radiant in the movie, the exquisite English Rose in the desert. Her character Katherine Clifton fell for Almasy’s intensity. And why wouldn’t she? I did. The man spoke a thousand tongues with his gaze: a vocabulary of anger, heat, pain and passion. But when he does speak, it could break your heart.

"Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again."

But she had to die; she was not a flower of the desert.

When I finally read The English Patient, I was breathless with the poetry of Ondaatje. Most amazing is how film and novel complement each other, how Minghella used lines from the novel and breathed new meaning into them. In the novel, Almasy spoke of a cactus known among the desert Bedouin. The Bedouin would cut out the heart of this cactus, and in the morning it will be filled with drinkable water. Minghella took these lines, gave them to Almasy once more - but this time as metaphor for his love.

2. Trainspotting [Directed by Danny Boyle]

"Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a starter home. Choose dental insurance, leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose your future. But why would anyone want to do a thing like that?"

Ewan McGregor's voice-over sums up the spirit of this nihilistic story of Sickboy, Renton, Spud and Begbie. All low-life losers and except for Begbie (who is addicted to violence) – all junkies who will trade their mothers for a hit. Anyone else had problem understanding their Scottish accent (I assume it’s Scottish)? But to be fair, by the 8th viewing, their accent starts to make sense. It was a joyride, their antics, their downward spiral into heroine-fueled self-destruction. When I finally read the book I had as much fun reading it aloud with the odd accent. The accent – that’s the only way to have fun reading it.

3. Silence of the Lambs [Directed by Jonathan Demme]

One of my favourite movie.

Jodie Foster always seems smarter than the men in her films - but Silence of the Lambs is probably the only movie that gave a male counterpart that was convincingly superior in his intellect. I have never seen such great chemistry between a man and a lesbian - which goes to show the sexiest part of the human body is the brain.

Anthony Hopkins embodied the chilling superiority of Dr Hannibal Lecter from Thomas Harris's novel.

Friday, March 16, 2007

MOVIE | The Other Bolyen Girl

I just found out about the upcoming movie based on Philippa Gregory's novel, The Other Boleyn Girl. Set during the Tudor Period, Eric Bana playing Henry VIII - while Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson plays Anne and Mary Boleyn respectively. The beautiful leading actresses are already worth the ticket price.

Is it okay to read the book because of the movie? The snob in me is always self-conscious about coming to a book because of a film - but I do it all the time. I've spread the news of this movie among my colleagues who are fans of Tudor history/historical fiction. They are heading for the bookshelves for Gregory's novel.

This year I'm also looking forward to the new Elizabeth I movie starring Cate Blanchett - The Golden Age. (Yes, it's a sequel. But as long as we don't say it out loud, it's okay.) Geoffrey Rush reprises his role as Walsingham, but there's Clive Owen (I don't get him - why are people so charmed by him?) this time as Walter Raleigh.

I love Elizabeth and Cate Blanchett was superb as the Virgin Queen. Among the supporting cast, there's also an exquiste Fanny Ardant as Mary of Guise. Ardant is one of those women who come into their beauty later in life. I adore the lavish set, the costumes and soundtrack. And although the film is a little liberal with the historical facts, it was wonderful in its exploration of gender politics.

It was Elizabeth the movie that first made me curious about reading up on the monarch. I'm still undecided between Elizabeth, the Queen by Alison Weir and Elizabeth by David Starkey. Anyone has any recommendation on a highly readable history book on Elizabeth I?

Monday, March 12, 2007

MY MUSIC | Dolores O'Riordan's New Solo Album

Dolores O'Riordan

Any Cranberries fans out there?

Or to be more specific, any Dolores O'Riordan fans out there?

It seems like forever, but Dolores O'Riordan's is finally releasing her first solo album, Are You Listening, in May 2007.

I can't even begin to describe how excited I am when I first found out about the album. I own every single Cranberries album I can get my hands on. Yes, there are other members in the band, but I love Cranberries for her voice. She made the lyrics heavenly.

The first single "Ordinary Day," can be heard on Dolores O'Riordan's MySpace page. She lost none of the crystal-like clarity in her voice.


This is just an ordinary day
Wipe the insecurities away
I can see that the darkness will erode
Looking out the corner of my eye
I can see that the sunshine will explode
Far across the desert in the sky

Beautiful girl
Won't you be my inspiration?
Beautiful girl
Don't you throw your love around
What in the world, what in the world
Could ever come between us?
Beautiful girl, beautiful girl
I'll never let you down
Won't let you down

This is the
beginning of your day
Life is more intricate than it seems
Always be yourself along the way
Living through the spirit of your dreams

Beautiful girl
Won't you be my inspiration?
Beautiful girl
Don't you throw your love around
What in the world, what in the world
Could ever come between us?
Beautiful girl, beautiful girl
I'll never let you down
Won't let you down
Down, down...


On a very personal note: I just found out her birthday is 6th September - a date that she shares with someone I care about. You know who you are.

WTF | Klingon Politics

A friend of mine once went for a job interview with Nokia. The job required relocation to Finland, and interviewers were curious about her impression of the country.

My friend replied Finland is the home of Nokia and Santa Claus.

She got the job anyway.

Apparently, Finland is also a place where politicians are of a Klingon persuasion. A Finnish member of parliament is aiming for re-election by campaigning with a translation of his Web site into Klingon:
He said his politics posed some translation difficulties, since Klingon does not have words for matters such as tolerance, or for many colours, including green -- the party under whose banner he is running in the national elections on March 18.

Non-warriors can also access the site,, in English, Swedish and Finnish.

The home-country of Santa Claus and Nokia phones seems to be a really fun place to be.

Full story here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

YOGA | Pushing into King Cobra

Cobra Pose

In one of my recent post on yoga I mentioned my anatomical advantage with backbends. My regular teachers like H. knows it, so he refuses to allow me to cheat when it comes to backbends. "You're more flexible than that," he reminds me. I admit: it's a source of pride for me in my practice. But the monstrous Ego has no place in a yoga class.

Last Friday I had an opportunity to flaunt my advantage in a Hot Flow class. The result? I woke up with an aching upper back on Sunday morning. I missed the Sunday morning yoga class because of the sore back; I had trouble getting out of bed.

Most people who have taken yoga are familiar with the Cobra pose - one of the foundations of the Sun Salutations. With legs firmly on the ground, we lift our chest up and forward, and look up. We do it all the time in class, and there are several variations on the Cobra.

One of the more advance variation on the Cobra is the King Cobra. Basically, you start in Cobra, then you reach your legs up towards your head to touch. Sounds easy but it's not. As it turns out, I am still not there yet - but I was close. How close? About an inch between my feet and my head.

King Cobra Pose

It was a challenge, and I wanted to push my edge. One of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is ahimsa (non-violence.) To push yourself into injury is a form of violence, and a violation of the spirit of yoga. It was pride - pride in my backbends that made me strain my back trying to reach to touch my feet.

But I had to try. It has always been my weakness - pride, and a certain lack of restraint. I would do it again, I realise, because I couldn't bear not trying. I wouldn't be me, if I let it go.

But probably after my back stops aching. It will heal, because thank goodness, it's not the sharp, pulling pain that indicates something dangerous. I'm going to remember to take it easy on my back.

I promise.

Pictures from the official website of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers.


In a miracle of cosmic synchronicity, minutes after I published this post, I found this article on the Yoga Journal website:

Harvey Deutch has been a physical therapist in San Francisco for 22 years ; during that time, he says, he's seen a lot of broken yogis, most of whom err on the side of overflexibility. For these people, the key to successful practice is to know what range of motion is normal for a joint and to not exceed it—even if they easily can. "We see these very flexible women in yoga classes who can flop into poses completely," he says. "Because their ligaments and soft tissues don't create a barrier, they can end up going way too far into a pose. And they run the risk of destroying their joints—and their spine in particular—in the process."
I think the Universe is trying to tell me something.

COMICS | Villains United

Villains United

Villains United (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
Written by Gail Simone, with art by Dale Eaglesham and Val Semeiks

The DC: Infinite Crisis series has ended and I'm just catching up with some of the backstory. I almost gave this title a miss though - Villains United - hullo? Can anyone take this title seriously? There's a lot of talented people working for DC Comics and they can't come up with anything more decent? The only thing that could convince me to give this title a try is Gail Simone. Her work on Birds of Prey has earned my upmost respect for her writing.

The story take place before the action in the DC: Infinite Crisis. After it was revealed that some of the Justice League superheroes mindwiped a villain, Dr Light, the ethics of the so-called superheroes are put into question.

Lex Luthor is organising his Society of villains in a bid to declare war against these superheroes. Of course his recruitment method leaves much to be desired, and it involves a lot cajoling and threats. Doesn't help that a lot of these villains are just plain psychos. Oh fun.

Meanwhile, another group of B-grade villains are organised by a mysterious mastermind (known only as Mockingbird) to work against Luthor's Society of Villains. There are six of them, and they are of course named: the Secret Six (somebody is really lazy with the names here) The Secret Six is made up of Catman, Deadshot, Chesire, Scandal Savage, Ragdoll and Parademon. All B-list villains that usually serves only as supporting cast.

And you know what? In spite of my complaints about the cheesy names, this comic don't suck. In fact, it's GREAT. It made me a fan of the Secret Six and just proves once again how Gail Simone is one of the most brilliant writer working in the comic scene today. She illustrates how a writer with enough talent and effort can take the bare bones of something and work it into something complicated and interesting. Her greatest success have to be the reinvention of Catman. The character was a loser that was bullied by Oliver Queen in his previous comic appearance. But Simone took this "B-list never-been" and remade him into greatness.

Earlier in the comics, Dr Psycho and Talia Al Ghul were sent by the Society of Villains to recruit Catman (aka Thomas Blake.) As the story goes, Catman has been in Africa these past few years finding himself among the lions. He has remade himself as a warrior among the great cats. The Society of Villains were not prepared for the new Catman, and they did not take well to being rejected. So they try threats:

Talia Al Ghul: Mr Blake. It's clear that you've been through a transformative event. Perhaps we were too brusque for a man of your...stature. But if we leave here with a "no", or if we don't return...You will suffer. For a time.

Catman: Noted. Please understand that I don't care, Talia Al Ghul. The sun still rises if I'm breathing or not. By the way, if you see any poachers on your way back to civilization...Do me a favor. Skin and neuter them, would you? Good day.

This pride, this defiance and lack of concern for self-preservation - it is so Zen. I think I am in love with this new Catman. Talia Al Ghul alludes later to Catman's Will-to-power that is similar to another DC caped crusader. There were moments when Catman's costume looks suspiciously like Batman's. The cape, the little pointy hood, the non-killing. Suspicious. Even the name: Catman. Batman.

But most of all, I love how Gail Simone explores the tenuous demarcation of Heroes versus Villains. Her Catman could almost be a hero - but only almost. He recognises in himself his weaknesses, and therefore has no claims to any moral superiority. Yet he has that self-awareness that sets him apart from Luthor's gang. A character that stands somewhat in moral ambiguity. One of my favourite bit is at the end, when Catman punches Green Arrow and tells him:

Catman: Good guys don't lobotomize people who are already in handcuffs. Every stinking thing that's happened because of it is on your heads. Remember that. People are going to die, because you took the shortcut.

... ...

Catman: You were all great once. You can be that way again...But you'd better hurry. Before the line between you and us gets too damn blurry to see.

Comic books are filled with superheroes - because no matter how the world evolves, we still want to believe in heroes that are better than us. Comic book is part of popular culture, but it is not any less deserving of respect - because popular culture has a finger on the pulse of the Everyman.

These days, the good guys are getting harder to find. The "Good Guys" are calling their enemies "Terrorists" - but their own methods and motives are disgusting. The "Good Guys" are not supposed to torture captives and then try to bury the evidence. When the "Good Guys" fail to act morally, no wonder we start looking towards the opposition. There is no heroism by default or birthright. Heroes and villains are made by their actions and their choices. Fallen heroes can rise again, but only if they recognise the mistake and make the right choices.

Friday, March 09, 2007

BOOKS | Theme Reading Lists II

I'm having too much fun with the lists. Oh dear. ;p

1. The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas
2. Armadale Wilkie Collins
Lydia Gwilt. Seductive, tragic, passionate. Did I mention she's also a roaring red-head? Her real crime is that she was born a woman with a man's ambition and courage.
3. Queen of the South Arturo Perez-Reverte
Perez-Reverte knows how to play up the noirish femme fatale. Here, he rewrites The Count of Monte Cristo with a female twist.
4. The Seville Communion by Arturo Perez-Reverte
One particular scene: the femme fatale lights a cigarette, then proceeds to tuck her lighter under her bra-strap - it struck me as a gesture most erotic.
5. The Fencing Master by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Adela de Otero. Her intricate knowledge of fencing and the mysterious, tiny scar at the corner of her mouth that hints at dark violence.
6. Waltz into Darkness by Cornell Woolrich
I confess: I want to read this title because the Angelina Jolie movie, Original Sins, was based on this book.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

BOOKS | Theme Reading Lists

Recently some bloggers [ Pages Turned & A Work In Progress] featured their Theme Reading List. Since I'm totally unoriginal but absolutely geek, I'm posting some lists of my own.

  1. Memoirs of Hadrian Marguerite Yourcenar

  2. The Claudius Novels Robert Graves

  3. The History of Rome Michael Grant

  4. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon

  5. The Twelve Caesars Suetonius

  1. Skating to Antarctica Jenny Diski

  2. This Cold Heaven : Seven Seasons in Greenland Gretel Ehrlich

  3. The Ice Museum Joanna Kavenna

  4. Ice Vladimir Sorokin

  5. The Ice Cave: A Woman's Adventures from the Mojave to the Antarctic Lucy Jane Bledsoe

  1. Walden and Other Writings Henry David Thoreau

  2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard

  3. A Pelican In the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries and Recluses Isabel Colegate

  4. Solitude: A Return to the Self Anthony Storr

  5. Stillness: Daily Gifts of Solitude Richard Mahler

  6. Journal of a Solitude May Sarton

  7. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

BSG | Kara Thrace and Her Special Destiny

If you are a fan of the new Battlestar Galactica, if you have watched the Season 3 episode "Maelstrom" - then you will understand why I posted this picture here.

This is the way I see Captain Kara "Starbuck" Thrace. She's military but she has never been someone who plays by the book. It gets her thrown into the brig on more than a few occasions but it is precisely her independent, defiant spirit that sets her above the others, what allows her the ability to think outside the box. She is a young woman haunted by her unseen demons.

And no matter what the fans of Dirk Benedict says - Kara Thrace was waaaaay better as "Starbuck." More depth, more complicated, cuter and more human.

"Kara Thrace and Her Special Destiny" is also a very good name for a cover band. *grin*

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

YOGA | Moving into March

We enter March with some pleasant surprises, and some new things to look forward to.

The yoga studio where I practice has just started a new class -- Upside Down -- for inversions. I just came back from the first class this evening. There's something very liberating about being able to come to a handstand (assisted, of course). Maybe it's seeing the world in a whole new direction (upside down!). Maybe it's the sense of achievement in a challenging posture. Or maybe it's just fun getting a headrush.

The studio will also be opening a few new Anusara yoga classes on a regular basis. One of our regular yoga teacher is a Anusara-certified instructor, and I have always enjoyed the energy of his classes. The first Anusara class starts next week. I'm looking forward to it.

One Legged Pigeon Pose

Lately I've been trying to pay attention to what are the poses that "feels right" for me. It is part of the process of looking into the more subtle properties of yoga. While it's important to have a good teacher, it is more important to find a teacher that suits your needs. Focus is important, and specialising in a specific style of yoga will help you go deeper. But right now, as a beginner, I am still exploring the different styles of the practice. Eventually I will come to a place that I feel most comfortable. Until then, I am still going for Ashtanga classes while exploring Anusara.

Why the interest in Anusara? Partly because of their emphasis on alignment - which can be rather technical at times -- and "heart-opening" postures. Especially the "heart-opening" poses. While I am still lousy at balancing poses, one of my teacher, H. identified an anatomical advantage where I am more "open" than a lot of people at my upper back. It allows me to go into deeper backbends. I helped demonstrate an intense backbend in class once, and I admit I did enjoy the astounded gasps when I arched my back into a high inverted "U" -- I don't often get to feel that proud of my practice, so I'm enjoying it for the moment.

Hridayam is the Sanskrit word for heart, which means "that which receives, gives and circulates." We can increase this process of giving, receiving and circulating by strengthening the supportive and protective anatomy around our heart and extending the range of motion in those areas. That includes our arms, ribcage, shoulders, neck, upper back and chest. I enjoy poses that requires me to lift my chest and open the heart. Too often the daily stress and frustration of ordinary life weighs on the heart and hardens us. The expansion of chest and rib cage allows me to stretch and release that physical and emotional "armouring" of daily life. Heart-openers rejuvenate me. I smile more freely after class, more willing to open to strangers. It brings me closer to the world around me, where usually I prefer to stay aloof, disconnected.

I will write about my Anusara class next week. I believe this is the right direction. I would like to think the month of March brings gentle blessings. Afterall, it is my birth month, when we can look forward to gifts.

Friday, March 02, 2007

World Literature Tour | New Zealand

Ah, finally. The Guardian was running a series on World Literature on their book blog last year. Then one day, it just fizzled out. They are finally back, with a new destination in mind.

Join the Guardian's World Literature Tour: New Zealand by contributing your choice of the New Zealand literature to read.

Some titles & authors that I've noted down:

Katherine Mansfield - I've scheduled her collection of short stories for this year
Keri Hulme's The Bone People - I wanted to read this book for the longest time
Janet Frame - I've heard a bit about her, especially Owls Do Cry
Witi Ihimaera - I've only watched The Whale Rider, but I enjoyed the film

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Justice for Darfur

It has become clear to me that there will be no enduring peace without justice. History shows that there will be another Darfur, another exodus, in a vicious cycle of bloodshed and retribution. But an international court finally exists. It will be as strong as the support we give it. This might be the moment we stop the cycle of violence and end our tolerance for crimes against humanity.

What the worst people in the world fear most is justice. That's what we should deliver.

From the Washington Post. The writer is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, writing on the situation in Darfur. She is pleading for justice.

Of course, the writer also has a career in entertainment.

I admit I am cynical when it comes to the celebrity "doing good deeds". But sometimes I wonder if a celebrity could also just be an ordinary person trying his/her best to make a positive change in the world? Perhaps it's not the PR machine at work. Perhaps, they really what to help. It's easy to laugh, but it takes real dedication to continue working for the best when the world is mocking you for your efforts. So, the tabloids make jokes out of her UN duties. But are we making any personal efforts to help anyone recently?

Just my 2 cents this evening on people trying to make a difference.