Saturday, June 30, 2007

HOUSEKEEPING | Changed Avatar

I was bored with my avatar, so just for fun, I've upload the image of Lena Headey from 300 to replace the previous picture of The Lament of Orpheus by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret. The next time I post on your blog, you might see Queen Gorgo on your comment page.

Ah, Lena Headey; She was a vision of elegance, strength and beauty in 300. I love the scene in the movie when the Persian envoy criticised her for speaking amongst men and Queen Gorgo shot back proudly, "Because only Spartan women give birth to real men!"

Is this not a glorious sight to behold?

As you can tell, I have a major crush on Lena Headey.

Friday, June 29, 2007

FILM | The Golden Age

I watched first watched Elizabeth during the final year of university. I watched with with some of my classmates, and we all came out of the cinema in awe of the film ― and of Cate Blanchett. It is proof of Cate Blanchett's talent as an actress that while Elizabeth was the role that made her, it will not be the role that defines her. With each new role, she seems to just slip into the skin of the character and make it hers. Perhaps this is why she was so suited for to play Elizabeth I. The film afterall, is about the struggles of a young woman coming into her own identity, her own power ― even if that means forsaking marriage and remaking herself in the image of a Virgin Queen.

There are also many other memorable performance in Elizabeth. Among them, an alluring Fanny Ardant, who played Mary of Guise, and Geoffrey Rush, who played spymaster Walsingham with a prowling stillness.

In The Golden Age, Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush reprise their former roles, with Clive Owen as Walter Raleigh. The plot seems centered around Elizabeth's growing but forbidden affections for Sir Walter Raleigh, against the larger political backdrop of the threat of the Spanish Armanda.

[Movie Still #1] The red in her dress, her fan and her hair. It brings out the intelligence and the green of her eyes. The finger to her lips. Inscrutable.

[Movie Still #2] The splash of purple against the map. She is a queen, and she walks across the world, yet she also seems somewhat diminished by the world that is larger than her. A splendid image.

[Movie Still #3] My favourite still is this one with Cate Blanchett in armour, mounted. It is the sheen of the armour against the reddish hair, and Cate Blanchett's pale face and intense eyes; The stark beauty of the image. It is the picture of a queen who fights for governance of her heart as well as her country.

I've just watched the trailer for the sequel to Elizabeth, The Golden Age. They obviously have spared no expenses on the lavish sets and costumes.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

CHALLENGE | Armchair Traveler Challenge 2007

The Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge 2007

I've been asking myself if I should sign up for The Armchair Traveler Challenge. I admit to a wanderlust in my reading, as I am always on the lookout for great travelogues. Books and travels are alot alike, as they are often about unfulfilled desires. There's always lots of books unread, lots of places we would like to see - we just never could find the time to get around to it.

Still - do I need another challenge? Of course not.

So naturally, I've decided to sign up anyway.

The rules, in a slightly altered form, are as follow:

  • The challenge runs from July 1 through December 31 during which time you must read six books that fall under the ‘armchair traveling’ theme.
  • Fiction or non-fiction works are fine, and do not need to be specifically travel related, as long as the location is integral to the book - I’ll leave that to your discretion. Locations must be actual places that you could visit, so no Middle Earths or galaxies far, far away.
  • Books may be cross-posted to other challenges, but you cannot count any books read prior to July 1st.
  • You can opt to switch out books throughout the challenge.

Since I'm always starting new books, I desperately need the wiggle room to change books for the challenge. And I still have a few reading challenge on-going, so it would be nice to be able to overlap the readings.

So here is my Shortlisted Six for the Armchair Traveler Challenge:

  1. Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud Sun Shuyun
    I'm reading Shu Shuyun's travelogue across China and India as she traces the journey of 8th century Chinese monk, Xuanzang, whose pilgrimage to India, to bring back Buddhist scriptures to China is fictionalised in the Chinese classic, Journey to the West. Xuanzang's pilgrimage took him 18 years, but his quest brought the teachings of Buddhism back to China.
  2. The Comedians Graham Greene
    I'm on a quest to read at least one Graham Greene every year. The Comedians is Greene's satirical take on Haiti.
  3. Arabian Sands Wilfred Thesiger
    For years, Thesiger lived as a Bedu of the southern Arabian Peninsula. He adopted their dress, walked barefoot and learned to settle into their rigid, almost ritualistic patterns. This is travels back in the days before globalisation and you can actually die from wanderlust.
  4. One Foot in Laos Dervla Murphy
    My dad and I are planning for a trip to Laos later this year. This is part of the reading in preparation.
  5. Travels with Herodotus Ryszard Kapuscinski
    I am reading Herodotus's The Histories slowly at the moment, and his storytelling is compelling. As a young journalist, Kapuscinski was given a copy of The Histories as a gift, and he traveled with it, gleaning from its rich knowledge of cultures. Kapuscinski regards The Histories as the "world literature's first great work of reportage" - this is his retracing of Herodotus's footsteps
  6. Venice Jan Morris
    Jan Morris. Venice. 'Nuff said.

The Bonus/Alternatives List:

  • Travels With A Tangerine Tim Mackintosh-Smith
  • Skating to Antarctica Jenny Diski
  • Out Of Africa Isak Dinesen
  • Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation Noel Riley Fitch
  • The Ice Museum Joanna Kavenna
  • The Southern Gates of Arabia Freya Stark
  • Red: Passion and Patience In the Desert Terry Tempest Williams
  • Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King
  • The Dud Avocado Elaine Dundy
  • Shadow of the Silk Road Colin Thubron
  • Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran Jason Elliot
  • Anything else by Ryszard Kapuscinski

QUIZ | I'm Gryffindor

I just realise July will have to be set aside for Harry and Voldemort. Meanwhile, a small prelude to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

Want to Get Sorted?
I'm a Gryffindor!

In spite of my gothic predilection, I tend to get the good guys. :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I Do NaNoWriMo

Chris mentioned on his blog that he's going to participate in this year's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by midnight, local time, on November 30th. The challenge starts 1st November, and I am psyched.

Psyched? Why? Because I have decided to join Chris in this reckless endeavour! Yay us! Who cares about stuff like editing when you can just typetypetypetype the novel you have always dreamt of writing. They say everyone has a story to tell, and this is the chance to just unleash that story inside you. JUST DO IT!

But we're allowed to plan or outline the story before we actually write the thing 1st November.

What should I write?

A melodramatic tale of rock-star vampires?

A tale full of existentialist angst, torrid love affairs, complicated love triangles and spiritual redemption?

Yet another Gabriel Knight fan fiction?

A futuristic occult thriller?

A sugary chick-lit with a lesbian twist?

A sword and sorcery tale about an axe-wielding warrior-woman and her snarky mage companion. Both of them guarding a young child who is the reincarnation of a goddess?

The possibilities are endless!

PS: While the possibilities are endless, knowing me, at least one of the character will eventually end up as a vampire, a werewolf, or dead.

WTF | This Blog Is Rated PG-13

Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

dead (3x) pissed (1x)

Monday, June 25, 2007

BOOKS | The Color Purple

The Guardian has a feature on Alice Walker, and how The Color Purple transformed African-American literature, and Alice Walker's life. [Full Guardian article here]

I read The Color Purple as my first book for the Southern Reading Challenge. I've heard much acclaim for the novel, but I have not expected to like it so much. It is a powerful novel, with a clear, direct message that speaks straight to the heart. I love it, and I want to read more Alice Walker in the near future.

The Color Purple is an ambitious book: it explores the themes of history, feminism, power, abuse, forgiveness and love all at once in this powerful story of Celie and her sister, Nettie. The sisters different journeys - Nettie goes to Africa for missionary work, Celie staying back home as wife/servant to a spiteful man - finally come together at the end in a wonderfully touching scene of reunion and love coming full circle.

The tragedy that was Celie's life opens the novel, with her writing letters to God, telling him about her violation by her father. Throughout her life, Celie is abused, demeaned, and badly used. She was impregnanted by her father, and the babies given away. Later, she is also given away as a wife - but treated less than a servant to a man she could only call Mr.___.

All her life, Celie seems to be nothing more than a sad, broken woman. But the turning point came when Mr___ brings home his mistress - a fiery singer who calls herself Shug Avery. Through her friendship and love for Shug Avery, Celie begins to learn to love herself, begins to gain the self-respect that has been denied her all these years. Finally, she walks out on Mr.___, until he too, begins to learn to look clearly at his own life, and change.

I read The Color Purple as a tale of transformation and coming into your own strength - but there is also a deep, underlying spirituality in the book. Towards the end, when Mr.___ and Celie arrives at a sort mutual respect, and Celie has learnt to accept Shug's absence, she realises this simple truth:

And then, just when I know I can live content without Shug, just when Mr. ___ done ast me to marry him again, this time in the spirit as well as in the flesh, and just after I say Naw, I still don't like frogs, but let's us be friends, Shug write me she coming home.

Now. Is this life or not?

I be so calm.

If she come, I be happy. If she don't, I be content.

And then I figure this the lesson I was suppose to learn.

And that, is a beautiful kind of peace indeed.

BOOKS | Guardian's the Great Escape

The Guardian recently featured a two-parter on books that writers read on their travels. [Part 1, Part 2]

This one stands out, for me, amongst all the choices: Pico Iyer, who read Graham Greene's The Comedians while he was in Bhutan:

The books we read on holiday cannot fail to take on colour from the environment in which we read them; but beyond that, Greene, more than anyone, throws a light on the poignancy of sitting alone in a very foreign place, after dark, surrounded by the sorrows and rending challenges of the world, and wondering what, as a visitor, one can and cannot do. At home, I'm not sure my conversation with the book would have had any of this intensity or sense of being laid bare; but in a small room in Bhutan, Graham Greene seemed the closest friend, the most unsettling cross-questioner, that any traveller could hope for.

Finished The Cold Moon

I've just finished reading Jeffrey Deaver's The Cold Moon. The plot was labyrinthine, to say the least - which is afterall, one of the reasons we read Deaver. But this time he may have written himself into very tight knots. The way the crimes are set up, and the motives - they stack up too unconvincingly. It has it moments though, like the little odd facts dropped around on time and clocks by the criminal known only as 'The Watchmaker'. Too bad it was scantily sprinkled around the novel.

This is not the best Deaver book I have read, but it does introduce a new character, Kathryn Dance, an expert in kinesics - which seems to be a science of reading body language. Deaver set it up nicely the way the people-based science of kinesics complements the hard fact/evidence based forensics of Lincoln Rhyme. Dance was pivotal in the way she was able to read people, perhaps reminding us that crimes are perpetuated by human begins, and we need to understand people to solve the crimes.

By the way, if you're interested in the Kathryn Dance character introduced in The Cold Moon (hi, Jenclair!), she will be making a lead appearance in the newest Deaver novel, The Sleeping Doll, which should be out in the bookstores already.

I'm also about 100 pages into Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the story of a serial killer who kills only serial killer. The prose is a little bone-dry, the characterisation a little sparse and flat. I'm interested enough in the premise to continue reading, although if I don't finish this book, it's because the writing style is too weak to sustain my attention.

I've also started on Val McDermid's The Wire in the Blood on impulse. Why do I do things like this? I have enough books to read already! The Cold Moon was supposed to be a temporary diversion from the more serious readings, and now it seems I've picked up some more mystery thrillers to the TBR pile.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Remember Aung San Suu Kyi

19th June 2007 marks the 62th birthday of Burmese pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. According to The Independent, she would have spent 4,253 days in detention.

One of the books I'm reading right now is Freedom from Fear, a collection of Aung San Suu Kyi's (also known as The Lady) writings, as well as interviews, letters and speeches related to The Lady. I've wanted to read this for a long time, along with the biography of Mahatma Gandhi. For me, Aung San Suu Kyi possesses the rare qualities of selfless courage and grace under duress. Through her actions, Aung San Suu Kyi embodies the spirit of karma yoga as taught in the Bhagavad Gita.

The book has an introduction by her husband, Michael Aris, who died in 1999 [Read the BBC obituary]. The introduction tells of how The Lady returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother, and how circumstances led her to join the political struggle for Burma's liberty. Her party, the National League for Democracy, won the elections by a landslide 80 percent, but the ruling regime would not relinquish power, and they placed her under house-arrest.

It is hard to read the introduction when one is aware of the circumstances behind the couple's separation. Since Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest in 1989, Mr Aris had only seen his wife on five brief occasions before his death.

The Lady insists on a non-violent struggle for democracy. I am skeptical of whether it is truly possible to stay non-violent when power lies in the hands of those who would abuse it. I used to believe in capital punishment and strong, punitive measures against lawbreakers ― an advocate of the "An eye for an eye" system of justice. But over the years my beliefs have altered somewhat. I no longer believe that the death sentence or longer prison terms can prevent crime or protect us from the evils of the world. Somewhere along the way, I begin to see the unfolding of karma and I begin to believe that violence cannot be the solution to tyranny and aggression ― but how does one fight unfairness and tyranny then, if not by force? One cannot always just turn the other cheek. I look at The Lady and I wonder at the kind of strength needed to endure what she did and not break, and not give in to violence.

On 25th May, 2007, the Myanmar's military government Friday extended the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi by another year. [Read the CNN report here] They hope to silence The Lady's voice by keeping her under house arrest, by keeping her away from those who would hear her message. I say we must not forget her, the Lady Aung San Suu Kyi. So I read her book, her message to the rest of the world who are more free than she:

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

PS: In a related note, Andrew Buncombe asks a series of questions on the fate of Aung San Suu Kyi and freedom in Burma for The Independent.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Looking For Blood

Anyone has a good murder mystery thriller to recommend? Something with intriguing characters and suspenseful plot-twists? I'm totally fine with violence in fiction.

I'm in that kind of odd mood where I'm looking for a little blood in my reading. I've been reading some devotional literature recently, and maybe it's just the dark side of my character that is acting up in response to all that heavy spiritual stuff. I'm looking for a good bit of violence and complicated plots. I used to read Patricia Cornwell - but I've stopped since she gone to seed.

Meanwhile, I've picked up Jeffrey Deaver's The Cold Moon. I've been a fan of Deaver's since I first read The Bone Collector - the first of his Lincoln Rhyme novels. Later, when they released the movie adaptation with Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington, I started reading his Lincoln Rhyme novels with the two stars pictured in my head. I met Deaver a few years back during one of his book signing tours. The Brat (a friend of mine) and I took a picture with him, as fans do during book-signings. I wonder where's that photo now?

News is, Deaver will be back in town soon to promote his new book, Sleeping Doll. I think I might just drop by again to get my books signed - again.

I've also picked up Val McDermid's The Wire in the Blood from the library. I've heard so much about McDermid's writings over the years, but just never found the time to pick up one of her books. Wire in the Blood features one of McDermid's regular characters, Dr Tony Hill, a psychological profiler. She's supposed to be a writer who doesn't flinch from the gruesome details. Anyone read her books before?

I'm also tempted by the Dexter novels. Because I am a big fan of CSI, a colleague recommended Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Apparently there's a TV series based on the Dexter novels. I'm going to get the DVDs of the series, because it's about a blood-spatter specialist working for the Miami Police Department who's also a serial killer - but he kills serial killers, so it's a twist in the usual format. Oh, I'm also going to watch it because it has Julie Benz, who plays Dexter's girlfriend. Julie Benz, who will always be Darla of the sultry voice, the vampire who sired Angel, and who redeemed herself at the end by sacrificing herself so that her son may live.

And I'm always on the lookout for vampire stories. Vampires and me will always be good friends.

I'm going to try to pick up the 30 Days of Night graphic novel soon, in anticipation of the movie. I like the premise: somewhere near the Arctic Circle is an isolated Alaskan town that is plunged into complete darkness for a month each year when the sun sinks below the horizon. As daylight falls, the town is attacked by a bloodthirsty gang of vampires bent on an uninterrupted blood orgy.

Sounds like a bloodfest that I can watch without the strenous use of my brain cells.

It's directed by David Slade, who also previously directed the disturbing Hard Candy. Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, the people that also brought us the epic(!) that was Xena: Warrior Princess, are producers for the show.

I've just seen the trailers. It looks so-so. But I have hopes for more blood.

This and Daywatch, I'm a happy puppy for a while.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

QUIZ | Who's Your Buffy the Vampire Slayer Alter Ego

There's this new book, Who's Your TV Alter Ego filled with personality quizzes that match you up with your TV Alter Ego. has posted an exclusive online preview that allows their readers to find out just Who's Your Buffy the Vampire Slayer Alter Ego?

Naturally, I had to do another Buffy quiz. Here's my result:

Mysterious and brooding, you have a long memory to go with your complicated past. You are passionate and yet deeply conflicted, afraid of being around others to the point that you jealously guard your privacy, preferring to remain a loner who harbors a dark side.

You're a Angel!

Ah, except for the long memory (since I'm not 100 years old!) it's just about right. Especially the passionate and deeply conflicted loner bit.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Orpheus Riffs on a Caterpillar

Stefanie posted a picture of a American Painted Lady caterpillar in her garden recently. The caterpillar looked a little scary to me ― though the red on them fascinated me as much as they repelled me. I really ought to examine these complicated feelings about the caterpillars.

According to Stefanie, they are "about two inches long and sort of spiky, but not really fat". I think that's already two inches too long. (I admit it: I am terrified of caterpillars with their wringly, hairy bodies. Yes, I have insect issues. I can pick up earthworms with my bare fingers to play but I can't deal with caterpillars. They are hairy and fat. I like my worms bare and skinny. Like supermodels.)

Meanwhile, I think the caterpillars are eating up her plants. :)

But what caught me was Stefanie's observations about the caterpillars, and butterflies:

"Whenever I think of butterfly gardens and choose plants to attract them I always think of the actual butterflies and the pretty flowers, not the voracious caterpillars."

Reading that line, it felt like a moment of satori. Human that we are, we are like the three blind men who each touch a part of an elephant and mistaken it for the whole. Butterfly or caterpillar, neither represent the whole: both are merely stages of a greater cycle. We forget how beauty is often the result of an evolution from baser beginnings; beauty arrives only after a process of destruction ― in this instance, to have the butterflies, you have to endure the caterpillars devouring your garden.

Still, the image of the caterpillar lingered in my mind over the weekend. I was in yoga class, resting in Savasana and suddenly the thought of that caterpillar just popped into my head ― this is one persistent caterpillar. It's doing more than eating out a garden. It's eating a hole in my mind.

So here I am: at my laptop pondering the significance of a caterpillar. And I reach for Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost, where I recall she wrote something that I've tagged for future reference:

The people thrown into other cultures go through something of the anguish of the butterfly, whose body must disintegrate and reform more than once in its life cycle. In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who "knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay." But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is psyche, the word for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawal, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of the metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.

During my Anusara yoga class last week, the teacher expounded on the idea of using our practice to "shed off our old skins" ― yoga as a process of transformation, of shedding off old skins, old habits, old mindsets. I wonder about "the anguish of the butterfly, whose body must disintegrate and reform more than once in its life cycle." And I wonder about how my body aches everyday from practice, even as emotionally, coming to terms with my own human imperfections can seem so traumatic at times. And where am I going with it all?

The process of transformation is not comfortable. It can be violent and traumatising, as it involves the breakdown of who you think you are right now. But you are not the caterpillar nor are you the butterfly ― for both are one and the same. You are merely going through the different phases of a greater cycle. See the different stages of life. Then see the great unity of it all.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

CHALLENGE | Once Upon A Time 2007

2007 Once Upon A Time Challenge



1. Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Dream Country [Write-Up]
2. Stardust by Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess[Write-up]
3. Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham


4. Book of Ballads by Charles Vess with various contributors


5. Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan


6. The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell [Write-up]


7. A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Thursday, March 22nd ~ Midsummer Night’s Eve, June 21st 2007

Visit Once Upon a Time Challenge Review Site

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Eileen Chang and How Little We Truly Know

74 years old Eileen Chang was holding a newspaper which was reporting the death of Kim Il-sung A while back, I was asking a friend about Eileen Chang, and my friend told me this story: It seems Eileen Chang was something of an eccentric and a recluse. She basically did a "Harper Lee" and took great pains to avoid the public eye. But one fine day, Chang decided to make a statement that "She ain't dead" (and perhaps to make a sardonic point about outliving Kim Il-sung).

So she took a picture holding a Chinese language newspaper with the headline: "Chairman Kim Il-sung passed away suddenly yesterday" - for the purpose of dating it. (Kim Il-sung died on July 8, 1994.)

One wonders at this woman's sense of humour. Actually, it makes me want to read her books.

Since NYRB published her English translation of Love In A Fallen City, Eileen Chang seems to be gaining a slow recognition among the English-reading community. As Focus Features releases Ang Lee's (director of Brokeback Mountain) film adaptation of Eileen Chang's Lust, Caution (Chinese Title: 色 戒), I suspect more people will be wondering who is this "unknown" Chinese author. Perhaps more people will actually read Eileen Chang. One can only hope.

From, the film synopsis goes:

Based on the Eileen Chang's same title short story, which was inspired by a true event, the story of Lust, Caution is set in the Japanese occupied Shanghai in the early 1940s. It tells a young woman Wang Jiazhi is assigned to approach Mr. Yee, a high-ranking official worked for the puppet government, and tricks him to an assassination trap. Then she realizes their relationship has dangerously grown out of control. The cast includes newcomer Tang Wei as Wang Jiazhi, Leung Chiu-Wai as Mr. Yee, Wang Lee-Hom as Kuang Yu-Min, Wang's comrade and lover, and Joan Chen as Mrs. Yee.

Randomhouse will be releasing the film tie-in for Lust, Caution. Do check it out if you think you're interested.

Of course, this isn't the first time a Eileen Chang story has been adapted for the screen. Stanley Kwan directed a beautiful version of Red Rose, White Rose: where Winston Chao is caught between two women: Joan Chen (Red Rose), who represents forbidden desire, and Veronica Yip (White Rose), his wife - who is supposed to represent virtue. Earlier adaptation also includes Hong Kong director Ann Hui's Love In a Fallen City (which stars Chow Yun Fatt), and Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's Shanghai Flowers (which has Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Carina Lau, both of whom you might have seen in 2046).

I guess my point is: Ang Lee's Hollywood glitter from Brokeback Mountain may rub off on Eileen Chang's stories and earn her new readership. But she has always been known to the Chinese through her writings and the film adaptations. Then again, I realise there are also a good number of ethnic Chinese who have no inkling of Chang either. They have lost touch with their literary heritage, and they may be more familiar with Jane Austen and Fyodor Dostoevsky than any Chinese authors dead or alive - and it depresses me.

It is ironic that Eileen Chang is only gradually being "recognised" by the rest of the world - the part of the world that does not read Chinese. Everytime I read about how "underrated" Eileen Chang is, I just want to laugh in a sad, bitter way, because it tells me how little we truly know about the culture of the rest of the world.

And then it makes me desperate to want to travel more, to read more, to know more about the rest of the world.

Friday, June 15, 2007

QUIZ | Which Peanuts Character Are You?

Found this via The Literate Kitten's. I have to admit, the result is a little close to home. I remember Rerun from the Peanuts comic strips, when he was always riding behind his mom on the bike. Look how he's grown. :)

Which Peanuts Character are You?

You are Rerun!
Take this quiz!

Quizilla | Join | Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rasputina and Buffy Related Music

It's serendipity that led me to the new Rasputina album while checking out Blog of a Bookslut.

Rasputina's new album, Oh Perlious World, is schedule for release this June. If you're a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan who owns all the Buffy soundtrack albums (like *ahem* me), then you may find Rasputina familiar. In one of the episodes, Drusilla danced to "Transylvanian Concubine" by Rasputina - a band described as a "chamber-rock trio". They have that odd blend of cello goth-rock accompanied by strong female vocals that I dig. Some of their music is hard to categorize, but that's part of the Awesome in the experience.

I adore Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Among some of my good Buffy memories are some great music that were introduced to me, that I might never have heard otherwise, like Rasputina, as well as Darling Violetta (who did the soundtrack to the Angel series.)

The best of all music-wise, Buffy the Vampire Slayer made a Sarah McLachlan fan out of me. Towards with the end of Season 2, Buffy had to exile Angel to the hell dimension to save the world - even when he recovered his soul minutes before the hellgate opened. It broken Buffy's heart - as it broke ours then, when we watched it on TV. The sound that was playing as a Buffy in despair left Sunnydale was Sarah McLachlan's "Full of Grace" - and it just closes the show beautifully. That song caused hearts to go a-flutter among my fellow Buffy fans. One of my classmate came to class with the lyrics to "Full of Grace" after that episode, and she pinned it on the noticeboard, just so we can remember that moment better.

OMG, we were such Buffy geeks then. But I digress.

NPR's All Songs Considered segment has a bunch of Summer 2007 Preview. Among the bands previewed are: Tegan and Sara, Nick Drake, Ryan Adams - and of course Rasputina.

NPR offered Rasputina's "Choose Me For Champion" ( from the Oh Perilous World album) for sample. Elsewhere, you can also download another single, Cage in a Cave.

And here, is the MTV for "Saline the Salt Lake Queen":


Monday, June 11, 2007

BOOKS | The Winter King

Once Upon A Time Challenge 2007

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
Once upon a time, in a land that was called Britain, these things happened. Bishop Sansum, whom God must bless above all the saints living and dead, says these memories should be cast into the bottomless pit with all the other filth of fallen mankind, for these are the tales of the last days before the great darkness descended on the light of our Lord Jesus Christ. These are the tales of the land we call Lloegyr, which means that Lost Lands, the country that was once ours but which our enemies now call England. These are the tales of Arthur, the Warlord, the King that Never Was, the Enemy of God and, may the living Christ and Bishop Sansum forgive me, the best man I ever knew. How I have wept for Arthur.

So begins The Winter King, narrated by Brother Derfel, a Christian monk who had once been one of Arthur's mightest warriors. Brother Derfel is now a maimed old monk in a monastery, bullied and sad. The time of Arthur has passed, but the legend of Camelot endures.

In the afterword, Cornwell explained how he was trying to imagine a historically more realistic Arthur: a great warlord who resisted the Saxons during the Dark Ages, after the fall of the Romans. So Cornwell's Britain is a savage land of internal strife and foreign invasions. He strives for raw realism in his retelling, and he portrays a time of lost knowledge, where magic seems more like trickery and superstitution, and the romantic characters as we know them: Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere ― are all fatally flawed in credibly human ways. There is some elements of Greek tragedy to the story: the way hubris contribute to the characters' downfall, of destiny and how the characters are but playthings of the Gods.

In The Winter King, in a bid for peace, to unite Britain against the Saxons, Arthur - bastard of Uther Pendragon - enters into a treaty with Powys. As part of the treaty, he was supposed to wed Ceinwyn, daughter of King Gorfyddyd of Powys. However, during the engagement ceremony, Guinevere enters the feasting hall and history as they say, is changed forever. As Derfel tells us of Guinevere:

I turned and saw a young woman who stood head and shoulders above the crowd and who carried a bold defiant look on her face. If you can master me, that look seemed to say, then you can master whatever else this wicked world might bring...

There have been many more beautiful women, and thousands who were better, but since the world was weaned I doubt there have been many so unforgettable as Guinevere, eldest daughter of Leodegan, the exiled King of Henis Wyren.

And it would have been better, Merlin always said, had she been drowned at birth.

Guinevere, the Helen of The Winter King - the woman whose beauty would bring down a mighty king - enters the narrative. So must the heroic Arthur fall in love with her - destiny and myth demands it.

Foolishly, Arthur abandons Ceinwyn and marries Guinevere, thereby earning Gorfyddyd's wrath and plunging Britain back into civil war.

Hubris, the character flaw of Greek Tragedy. Behind Arthur, the Warrior King, Bear Amongst Men, is a lonely child neglected by his mother, who is forever looking for the love denied him. Guinevere, as she is revealed, is no meek girlish child. She is a woman of steely will, with ambition and her own agenda. Her genuis is that "Guinevere saw the loneliness in Arthur's soul and promised to heal it." Arthur's marriage to Guinevere hurted many people down the years, but none more than Arthur himself.

And Lancelot - how different is the Lancelot in Cornwell's Winter King. In most versions of the Arthurian legends, Lancelot is the strongest and bravest of Arthur's knight. Cornwell deliberately reinvents Lancelot as a devious, handsome charmer, a man who knows how to stay away from the battlefields, but paid the bards lavishly to sing his praises, taking the exploits of other heroes as his own. Lancelot, as Cornwell tells it, knows good PR. All tales are retelling, so Cornwell reminds us time and again in The Winter King.

Derfel, or perhaps Cornwell through the lips of Derfel, reminds us of the shaping of tales:

I could have written that truth, of course, but the bards showed me how to shape a tale so that the listeners are kept waiting for the part they want to hear

We have all heard the stories of Arthur somewhere in our lives. What make us keep coming to the Arthurian stories? And how can any writer make the story of Arthur relevant and engaging to a modern audience?

Here lies the power of mythology in their retelling: With each retelling, the storyteller takes what he needs from the root-myth, and introduce something new into the narrative. So there is a constant process of renewal, the myth working like an organic entity that endures because it is capable of evolving through time.

As I read The Winter King, I realise slowly Cornwell has shifted the angle of the Arthurian story. It is still the story of Arthur and his heroes, yes, but it has also become the story of Derfel and all he loved. And he loved Arthur, as he loved his childhood friend - Nimue, the priestess of Merlin. And Merlin, the wiley trickster, the callous magician who used everyone in his single-minded search for the Treasures of Britain to restore the Old Gods to their powers.

Brother Derfel's sad knowledge frequently interrupts the narration of the Arthurian tale. In his knowledge of what was lost, the reader is always reminded of how greatness came to be lost. In stories like the Arthurian tales, where the ending is known, it is no longer about What Happens? Rather, about How? and Why? Bernard Cornwell's genius is how he manages to refresh the narrative by framing the story through Derfel's eyes, and by reinventing the characters so familiar to us, he gives the readers something new to keep them turning the page. By using Derfel's proximity to Arthur and the action, Cornwell brings a personal sense of loss in the Arthurian tragedy. I want to know the story as Derfel felt it, of what used to be, and what was lost.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

YOGA | Intermediate Yoga Workshop

I signed up for an Intermediate Power Yoga Workshop last Sunday. Lately my Level 1 Power Yoga classes seem a little easy. I know I'm not all that strong, especially when it comes to core-power, but I thought perhaps I should be looking at challenging myself more.

The workshop was fun. There was a lot of arm balances that elude me at the moment. The lack of success is not bothering me yet.

F. reminds us to just go one step at a time. The spirit of "Evolution," he calls it. Keep showing up, keep building the strength, and remember that your practice will be different each and every day. Some days will be better than others.

I just need to keep reminding myself. Oh, and make sure my ego stays outside the yoga studio during practice.

In the theory part of the workshop, F. outlined the five basic principles to advancing our yoga practice:

  1. Breath,
  2. Heat,
  3. Drishti,
  4. Flow,
  5. Core

Breath and Heat

The principle behind the Breath was explained to me in the past during my usual Ashtanga and Power Yoga practice. In both Ashtanga and Power Yoga classes we practice Ujjayi (Victorious Breath) and it provides the long, even, heating breath needed to maintain the poses. The heating quality in Ujjayi also helps in softening the body to make it more pliable in deep stretches. And it also helps focus our mind back to the breath, where the meditation in yoga begins.

The Gaze, The Drishti

F. calls the drishti the "finishing touch to a pose." The drishti is a point of focus where the gaze rests during asana. It is supposed to aid concentration. Each yoga pose has a specific drishti, which also aids in alignment. It is more than just staring at a spot though. It is also a state of mind.

According to F. he could never get Bakasana (Crane or Crow Pose) until someone literally smacked him on his head about getting his drishti wrong. He could never take flight in Bakasana because he was looking down, instead of forward - as the drishti should be. When we look down in Bakasana, the energy and the focus also goes down. Result? We fall flat on our faces.

When we attempted an assisted Handstand during class, I did feel a difference in the alignment of my body when I shifted my drishti. It was just a subtle change - to look in the space between my hands instead of the wall behind, and the legs and the torso seem to just feel stronger, straighter.


Each pose should build on each other, to open and stretch the relevant parts of the body so that we can come to the advance poses better. Foundation poses like Triangle, Half-Moon and Lunges all serve their purposes as building blocks to more advance asanas.


The source of support and power in yoga. I need to work on my core more if I want to advance in the asana. No question about it. But oh, how I hate the core exercises.


From here on, I have to decide how to proceed with my practice. I can continue staying at Level 1 classes, no problem. There are still things to learn, and I can try to keep building strength until I am ready. But staying at Level 1 also means holding myself back. I am comfortable with Level 1, and that is no excuse for resting on my laurels.

Yoga teacher Donna Farhi wrote:

When we give up in the face of challenge, we cheat ourselves of the immense satisfaction that follows from building any skill to fruition. The trouble is that we can't know, in the beginning, just how good we're going to feel when our gross fumblings and awkward failures slowly transform into mastery. We might have an inkling, but we don't really know that working through our ineptitude will open us up to immense rewards. All we know in the moment is that what we're doing is really hard.

Yoga taught me the possibility of transformation. The least I can do to honour the practice is to explore this possibility to its limits. That means challenging myself. I am going to have to start showing up for some Level 2 classes. It's going to be difficult. I'm going to feel like a baby chick among the more advanced students.

Oh, my ego is going to take major beatings.

BOOKS | Completed Once Upon A Time Challenge

It is Sunday and I've managed to finish reading Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for the Once Upon A Time Challenge 2007.

Yay! We do the Dance of Joy! My first completed challenge EVER! I'll probably wrap up later - after I finish writing something on The Winter King, which was my choice for the Mythology section of the Challenge. I am of course, not done with Bernard Cornwell's Arthurian series - The Winter King being only the first book in what is known as The Warlord Trilogy. I need to check out the second book, Enemy of God, from the library soon. I wonder if I can get to it this year though.

Now I need to refocus on my other Challenges. I managed to finish The Color Purple today. This weekend seems more productive than usual, as I managed to get a lot more reading done - in between Normal Life and a Intermediate Level Yoga Workshop (lots of arm balances that are still challenging me.)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

BOOKS | Weekend Finishing Up

Ah, weekends. This weekend hopefully will see me finishing up the Once Upon A Time Challenge with The Winter King and A Midsummer Night's Dream (fingers crossed).

I've also just checked out a copy of Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall from the library. 1001 Nights of Snowfall is a sequel to the Bill Willingham comic series, Fables, where characters from fairy tales have been driven from their Homelands into our world because of some dark conquering power, known as the Adversary. 1001 Nights of Snowfall takes place in the early days of the Fables series, just after the fables (characters from the fairy tales and folklores) are exiled from their homes. Snow White has to travel to Arabia as ambassador to her Fables community. She is kidnapped by a sultan who of course wants to marry her, then kill her. In the process of trying to save herself, Snow White plays Scheherazade, telling stories to the sultan for 1001 Nights.

Maybe I will just add it into the list of books to read for the challenge. Well, why not? I still have time.

Then again, the Once Upon A Time Challenge is the very first challenge I might actually complete, so maybe I shouldn't try to jinx it by counting chickens before they hatch?

Friday, June 08, 2007

My Pop Culture Indigestion

This is going to be one of those music-related post that isn't going to be relevent unless you know who I'm talking about.

Tegan and Sara have a new album, The Con coming out in North America July 24 and in Australia July 28.

It was hush-hush on the new album at first, as it was still in production, but then a few singles were leaked online. I thought their music was cool, but when I read what they had to say about their leaked album, and I think they are just seriously chill:

ps: i have downloaded leaked albums before. so i am not trying to seem like a creepy school teacher slapping your ears with a ruler. i swear.

So what did they do? They made the leaked singles available on MySpace:

When you're young and famous, it's good to be as self-possessed as they are.

If you have time, go sample their music. If you like it, maybe you would like to buy their albums.

More music related note: Keren Ann released her new album recently. Shouldn't be hard to find, because she nicely titled it, Keren Ann.

If you love Feist, you may want to check out Keren Ann. Her new album is stronger and more confident than her previous works. It seems she has returned to basics, this new album gives more play on her vocals. Her vocals are lush, powerful, textured, and proves that the human voice is still the most beautiful instrument ever created.

Check out if you have time.

Finally, have anyone else checked out this list of Hot 100 Women as voted by the (mainly *ahem* lesbian/bisexual) readers of It was a response to the (IMO) highly objectable list of Maxim Hot 100. (No. I'm not going to link to Maxim magazine on my blog.)

Among the Maxim Top 10 are:

1. Lindsay Lohan
2. Jessica Alba
3. Scarlett Johansson
4. Christina Aguilera
5. Jessica Biel
6. Ali Larter
7. Eva Mendes
8. Rihanna
9. Eva Longoria
10. Fergie

Ewww ... Linday Lohan? Eva Longoria? Fergie? Can this list be more bland?

But when we look at the AfterEllen list, the diversity of the women is mind-boggling. Among the Hot 100 is Helen Mirren at #31 (Woo Hoo!), Meryl Streep, Gillian Anderson (Scully is still Pin-Up Girl for the Geeks), Queen Latifah, Catherine Deneuve and Carmen Electra.

The AfterEllen Top 20:

1. Leisha Hailey*
2. Angelina Jolie
3. Kate Winslet
4. Lena Headey
5. Sarah Shahi
6. Jennifer Beals
7. Tina Fey
8. Jordana Brewster
9. Salma Hayek
10. Natalie Portman
11. Eliza Dushku
12. Scarlett Johansson
13. Piper Perabo
14. Kate Walsh
15. Keira Knightley
16. Jodie Foster
17. Kate Moennig
18. Elizabeth Mitchell
19. Halle Berry
20. Simone Lahbib

Now, there's always going to be disputes about these listings. Personally I find Keira Knightley, Halle Berry and Sarah Shahi as exciting as dishwater. And where are the Asian beauties? Gong Li? (Please, no one suggest Ziyi Zhang) Maggie Cheung? Or how about Missy Peregrym? And Eliza Dushku don't cut it for Top 10?!

But what I do like when I compare the Maxim and AfterEllen lists is how it shows men (okay, men who are Maxim readers) and women (okay, okay, women who are gay) rank hottiness on different scales altogether. The women seem more forgiving of wrinkles and are more willing to embrace intelligence and experience than the Maxim men. Is it a big surprise? Nope. But it's still comforting.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

YOGA | Back to Anusara After Flu

With work and the recent bout of the flu over the weekend, I had to miss a few yoga classes recently. I finally made it back to Anusara 1 class this evening. Maybe I shouldn't complain, because this is a Level 1 class - but the class felt easy. At least most of the poses we tried today were easy. Even the Half-Moon Pose was manageable tonight.

I'm been keeping track of my progress in yoga in the areas of flexibility, strength and balance. I believe I have progressed in all these areas, but my most significant improvement is in the area of flexibility - and to a lesser degree, my physical strength. Balance poses - even a basic Tree Pose - still challenge me. On the upside though, my struggles trying to perfect standing poses have given me a pair of nicely shaped calves.

What I have noticed of my practice recently is how applying the principles of the Anusara practice has helped me improve on some of the poses. The Anusara classes are not as strength-based as some of the other Power Yoga classes, and it can get rather technical - but it has helped me in my practice. The simple details of energising the legs, the direction of the hips, the tucking in of the tailbone - all of it contirbuted to a more successful Half-Moon Pose that usually alludes me.

But yoga is more than about neat little tricks to get the perfect pose. And Half-Moon Pose is more than having strong legs to balance. It's getting different parts of my body to co-ordinate in an energised whole into a pose. Yoga is about union afterall, and my practice is revealing to me in small glimpses of how all parts of the body are connected.

It seems I had the ability and the strength to do these poses all the time - but I had to learn how to work the body as a cohesive whole into the asana. I wonder at all the new information the brain had to assimilate to make the poses possible. How body intelligence has to come from a kind of mental intelligence also.

Yoga is a wondrous practice indeed. It is mind, body and soul practice.

Monday, June 04, 2007

CHALLENGE | Threshold

Once Upon a Time Challenge 2007

Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Caitlin R. Kiernan is an author I've been wanting to pick up for a while. She has some impressive authors giving her cover blurbs. Among them, Neil Gaiman calls her "the poet and bard of the wasted and the lost." High praise enough to pick up this novel, I guess.

Threshold is a dark fantasy that invokes the terrors of H.P. Lovecraft. Set in modern day Birmingham, Ala, the story revolves around paleontology major Chance Matthews and her friends. The story opens one night, while Chance, her boyfriend Deacon Silvey and their friend Elise, were stoned out and decided to break into the water works tunnels for kicks. What they saw in those tunnels that night was too horrific for them to talk about it. Later, Chance and Deacon broke up, Elise killed herself and Chance lost the only family she had when her grandfather died.

Out of all this enters a haunting albion girl, Dancy Flammarion - who claims an angel told her that her destiny is to slay monsters. And now, Dancy needs Chance and Deacon's help. It has something to do with what Chance, Deacon and Elise saw in the water works tunnel - it costed Elise her life, but neither Deacon nor Chance are willing to revisit that terrible night. In fact, we are never told what was so terrible in that water works tunnel that night. Everything is left to the imagination of course, but towards the end, I just don't give a damn.

I understand that the author may be trying to evoke a sense of horror more implied than shown, as time and again Dancy tells Chance Matthews that the monsters cannot be understood, that is it older than the land and alien. But I'm afraid the menace of this ancient evil just failed to come through, and we are left with a bunch of sad losers running around trying to comprehend something they are not meant to understand. And the readers are none the wiser.

Most disappointing is the misuse of the character Dancy Flammarion - a 17 year old albion girl with the ability to see and slay monsters? That is a promising premise - if nothing else, Caitlin R. Kiernan knows the power of symbolism and imagery. Dancy Flammarion is the most interesting part of the book, and the readers expect she will be the pivot of the storyline. No, instead Dancy Flammarion disappears halfway through the book, and the main action is left to the less interesting characters. It is an unexpected plot-twist of course, but a weak one, because the plotline just slows down the moment Dancy disappears. Without spoiling anyone, I can only say the solution to slaying the monsters is too conventional if we are to imagine them as powerful creatures older than memory. It is wrapped up too conveniently, and the truth is - I actually think the author has the potential to do better than this.

After Threshold I'm hesitant about picking up another book by the same author. Maybe I will, in the near future. Maybe this is not the most representative of her best works.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

CHALLENGE | Southern Reading Challenge Begins

Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge 2007 starts today!

Challenge starts 1st June, until 30th August 2007. The challenge is to read 3 Southern books by Southern authors. One may substitute two movies based on a book/play by a Southern author for one book

As usual, if I don't own the books, I will try to get the books from the libraries or from friends. No buying of new books for the challenges.

My Reading List for the Challenge:

The Complete Stories Flannery O'Connor
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
The Color Purple Alice Walker

Orpheus Descending Tennessee Williams
Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady Florence King

Film Options:
Monster's Ball
Fried Green Tomatoes
Cold Mountain