Friday, February 29, 2008

Music to Battlestar Galactica

Fans of the current Battlestar Galactica series may be familiar with this song: It's Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower", score rearranged with an Indian accent (you may notice the sound of the sitar in the background) -- all set to a montage of frakking action. The song featured prominently in the closing two-parter episode of BSG Season 3, ("Crossroads, Parts 1 and 2").

BSG actually has one of the best soundtracks on a TV series ever. I am not ashamed to tell everyone that the ringtone on my mobile phone is the opening title to Battlestar Galactica -- which I just found out is actually the Gayatri Mantra. Go figure.

Soundtrack composers Bear McCreary and Richard Gibbs drew from various ethnic musical traditions to give BSG its ambience. My personal favourites are the Irish pipes and Irish Gaelic vocals that are usually used for the Adama scenes. The Irish pipes communicate the poignancy of loss, the sense of brotherhood in battle -- afterall, the story is about the surviving remnants of the human race fighting to avoid genocide; in the face of the inevitable, is the possibility of courage.

And I love the taiko drums on the soundtrack -- the way they build insistently to a crescendo for the fast action sequence of story. Those taiko drum scores never fails to stir me.

Season 4 of BSG will premiere this April. It will be the last season and the final Cyclon will be reveal.

As I wait for the new season, and the DVD release of Season 3 -- here is one of the better fan video that highlights some of the best parts of Battlestar Galactica so far.

BOOKS | Why I Want to Read John Ruskin (One Day)

Marcel Proust was a great admirer of Ruskin, and from Proust I gathered he was a great art and social critic. While I have never read anything by John Ruskin, I hope to read Praeterita one day.

Why am I interested in Ruskin? Simply because Proust admired Ruskin? That's not a good excuse -- it's like reading Anna Karenina only because Oprah recommends it.

Proust brought Ruskin to my attention; I was curious. However, my real introduction to Ruskin's ideas was via Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel. In the book, De Botton outlines the five central conclusions of John Ruskin's treatise on why we desire to possess beauty:

  1. Beauty is the result of a series of complicated factors that come together to affect the mind both psychologically and visually (huh?)
  2. Human have an innate tendency to respond to beauty and the desire to possess it.
  3. Desire for souvenirs, carving one's name on pillars, taking photographs – these are the more vulgar expression of the human desire for possession
  4. There is only one way to possess beauty – and that is by understanding it, and making one-self conscious of the factors (psychological and visual) responsible for it. In short, we need to process
  5. The most effective means of pursuing this conscious understanding is by attempting to describe beauty – by writing or drawing – whether we have any talent for doing so (which is why there are so many badly written poetry out there)

Ruskin was known for being extremely generous with his time teaching art to the layperson. He believed that one does not have to be an artist, or even be remotely skilled to learn how to draw: "My efforts are directed not to making a carpenter an artist but to making him happier as a carpenter."

Ruskin believed that just practicing how to draw – even if you are not gifted – teaches us to see, to notice, rather than merely look. The process of art enhances our perception, helps us develop the aesthetic sensibilities that we can bring to our ordinary lives. It is an affirmation of art and its relevance to life, because it refines us. In learning to draw, we will also learn more about our preference, and in the process perhaps discover for ourselves the rational behind our tastes. When we understand why we prefer one thing over another, we begin to develop an 'aesthetic', a capacity to assert judgements about beauty – and ugliness.

Ruskin described writing as a form of 'word-paint.' He encouraged writing about our experience as it can help us crystalise our impressions of beauty – but one needs to write effectively. Effective writing is more than mere description; it should also analyse the effect something has on us in "psychological language." When we fail to write adequately, it is simply the failure of not asking ourselves the crucial questions, the failure to examine the experience incisively. In short, we fail because we have not applied our critical faculties to a sufficient vigor.

I admit: this is the weakness in my reading and writing – not being critical enough. I am guilty of complacency and never really venturing out of my comfort zone. Ruskin's ideas shame me a little, but it also motivates me to work harder at developing my own aesthetic faculties.

From what little of Ruskin (via de Botton) that I have learnt, I can see why Proust was such an admirer. What is so captivating about Proust's epic (in spite of his annoying snobbery and his loooooong, sinuous prose) is his relentless exploration of that shadow labyrinth known as the human heart. Reading Charles Swann's jealousies over Odette in Lydia Davis's superb translation of Swann's Way, I immediately became a Proustian groupie. Proust seems to exemplify Ruskin's idea of pursuing art and beauty by attempting to "word-paint" in psychological landscape -- and how he painted.

This is why I want to read Ruskin. One day. And why I need to pick up The Prisoner and The Fugitive soon.

CHALLENGE | Closing on Outmoded Authors Challenge

September 1st 2007 ~ February 28th 2008

Choose to read however many books by however many authors you like from the list at Outmoded Authors

My books read:

  1. W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge; The Moon and Sixpence
  2. Italo Svevo, A Perfect Hoax
  3. G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday; A Piece of Chalk (Essay)

Okay, it could have been better. But in between I did a lot of yoga. And I read other books. So, it's cool.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

SIFF 2008

Here it is -- the schedule for the annual Singapore International Film Festival. I missed the last two film fests because I was away, but this year I'm sticking around.

I'm studying the film selection and pencilling in the shortlist. But there are at least two films are definitely my MUST-WATCH:

  • I'm Not There -- the quirky production that has different actors (Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger and Christian Bale among them) playing different manifestations of Bob Dylan. I've been waiting for this one since I heard about it last year.
  • The Last Mistress -- directed by Catherine Breillat and stars Asia Argento. A French period piece that has Asia Argento playing a devious courtesan whose young lover is to be married to a pure, virginal lady.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Eloquent Sounds of Silence

Pico Iyer writes on The Eloquent Sounds of Silence:

Silence, then, could be said to be the ultimate province of trust: it is the place where we trust ourselves to be alone; where we trust others to understand the things we do not say; where we trust a higher harmony to assert itself. We all know how treacherous are words, and how often we use them to paper over embarrassment, or emptiness, or fear of the larger spaces that silence brings. "Words, words, words" commit us to positions we do not really hold, the imperatives of chatter; words are what we use for lies, false promises and gossip. We babble with strangers; with intimates we can be silent. We "make conversation" when we are at a loss; we unmake it when we are alone, or with those so close to us that we can afford to be alone with them.

In love, we are speechless; in awe, we say, words fail us.

Naturally I can't keep my mouth shut here: If in love we are speechless, why are there so many songs, poetry and books written about love? Oh, and words fail me too, when I see someone wearing a fluffy pink dress with silver shoes. But that -- is not awe.

I actually like this article (even if I find it a little florid in places) -- but I just had to be cheeky.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tonight's Yoga Class & Reading Update


The focus of tonight's class is backbends. It seems I wasn't the only one who loved M's backbend class last Wednesday. M had planned to work on hip-openers tonight -- but with the positive feedbacks, she decided to go into backbends once more.

Tonight we did a series of standing backbends, progressively deeper each time. On the last backbend M encourage us to drop to a wheel pose. I thought I could, but for some reason I didn't. Later after class I thought about why I chose not to drop back into Wheel. I wondered if I was playing it too safe?

I need to learn to practice with a greater degree of detachment, I think.


I'm about 30 pages to the end of Colin Thubron's Shadow of the Silk Road. A colleague commented this morning how she sees me with the same book ALL THE TIME. I checked my records and I have been reading Thubron for more than a month. Oh dear.

It's not that the book is bad. In fact, it is well-written and I intend to pick up other travelogues by Colin Thubron as soon as I am done with Shadow of the Silk Road. It's just that most of my reading is done on the way to work and back, and there's everything else in between -- yoga practice, chores, dinner, sleep and a social life. Oh, how I miss having a social life.

I'm also behind on my reading of War and Peace; at 1,200++ pages it's just too heavy to bring to work. (I might break my wrists holding it up on the bus!) It would also be out of place in the yoga studio -- although I have to admit, it would make a good yoga prop.

Oh, I went to the library over the weekend and came back with some good stuff:

  1. Wislawa Szymborska's Poems New and Collected
    I have checked out this collection many times over the years, but for some reason, I never bought myself a copy. She is like the favourite poet I keep dating but absolutely refuse to marry.
  2. Judith Thurman's Cleopatra Nose: 39 Varities of Desire
    I enjoyed Thurman's biography on Colette (even though it is as yet still unfinished). She is a thorough researcher who also shows interesting insights on her subjects. I like her work.
    Thurman is a regular contributer to the New Yorker magazine, and this is a collection of some 39 articles over a 20 years career as a writer.
  3. Joan Didion's We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction
    I read The Year of Magical Thinking a while back and I was fascinated by how she examined the process of grief and loss. The Everyman's Library collected SEVEN of her non-fiction books in this thick hardcover -- one that could prove useful as a yoga prop. Let's see how far I go with this collection.

Ethical Wills

For the past week, I've been trying to write something about ethical wills but the distractions are relentless.

I first learnt about ethical wills from an article in the September/October 2005 issue of Utne magazine. That article left a deep impression on me and I thought about it for a long time. Then recently I watched the video by Lakshmi Pratury on the letters her late father wrote to her. Something possessed me and I could not rest until I found that issue of Utne with the article. I reread the article and it did not lose its relevance.

Within the same week of rereading the Utne story, I stumbled on Barry K. Baines's Ethical Wills -- which coincidentally was mentioned in the Utne article. (I did not go looking for the book. I was looking through the shelves on writing and there it was, sitting on the library shelf. It was serendipity.) I picked up the book, and learnt a little more about ethical wills, with some advice on how to write one.

But first: what are ethical wills? How do they differ from the usual legal wills where we find out if Aunt Margaret left us her house, her jewelry and Peanut, her pet chihuahua?

Barry K Baines basically puts it down to this: legal wills bequeath valuables, while ethical wills bequeath values. (One might argue that Peanut the chihuahua isn't worth its weight in fertilizer, so it hardly counts as valuables. But one digresses.)

Ethical will is an ancient tradition practiced across many cultures. In the Bible, when Jacob calls his sons to his deathbed and he gives them his blessings, it serves as form of ethical will conveyed orally. It is still being practiced today, even if we may not always recognize what it is called.

Ethical wills are where we state, our hopes and blessings, for posterity. We reaffirm the values and beliefs that defines us. For example, a father might decide it is important to tell his children the family history. Or a mother might want to tell her children the importance of a good education. The writer may also choose to just relate personal stories, anecdotes, or express regrets, gratitude and funeral arrangements.

Who are the ones who will benefit most from ethical wills? According to Baines, it is women. "Women couldn't bequeath valuables, so they bequeathed values," he wrote.

The person that you are, the values you stand for –these are the things you can pass on, that no one can take them from you. In cultures where women have no say over property – and are often regarded as properties themselves – ethical wills are the only true legacy that women could leave behind.

The Utne article talked about Rachael Freed, a former English teacher and therapist, who argued for ethical wills as a means of empowering women. She runs the Women's Legacies project, which helps women write their ethical wills. She wanted her project to be more inclusive of women from all social classes, so she asked someone who worked in a prison: who will benefit most from ethical wills? The answer:

"The lifers," the prison official replied. "They are the ones who fear most not being remembered. Their families are doing their best to forget them."

Implicit in our ethical wills is the fear of obliteration. We would like a say in how we want to be remembered. That is why we feel the need to tie up the emotional loose ends of our lives. In our ethical wills we attempt to address past, present and the future.

Most of all, it is for those who are unable to say the things that needs to be said. It is the sad truth: we often leave too many things unsaid, too many things undone. Humans are creature with the capacity for regrets.

When is a good time to write ethical wills? Baines claims that there are two answers to this question: 1) when people are in a transitional period in their lives, 2) when a situation occurs that lead people to reflect on their lives. Transitional period could be the pending arrival of a child, marriage or whenever great changes occurs in our life. One does not have to be dying of cancer to prepare your ethical will. Everyone can benefit from setting down to paper our spiritual and emotional legacy. But I suppose what is said will be most meaningful when it is most heartfelt, when it matters most.

So why am I suddenly so interested in ethical wills? Am I going through a transitional period of my life? Has something occurred that caused me to reflect deeply on my life?

Back in 2005, after I read the Utne article, I thought about writing my own ethical will. There was a brief moment of sadness because it hit me: I have no children, and so there is no one I could leave a written legacy of my life to.

Then I thought about my mother; I wondered what she will write in her ethical will to me. There was one time when my mother over-explained an issue; later she told me: She has seen how over the years I had come to be resentful of her -- all because she rarely explains herself effectively. There lies all these misunderstanding between us. It has gone on for so long, one doesn't even know where to begin to resolve them.

That is true. But then again, according to my closest friends: the reason I am often misunderstood is because I don't explain myself enough. Ironic, isn't it? It feels almost like a genetic trait.

I am my mother's child. The inability to say what needs to be said is the failure between my mother and myself; the reason why our relationship is so strained.

Many times, I imagined the things my mother would like to tell me, but is unable to do so in person. It became an exercise in trying to understand my mother's hopes and expectations of me. What does she see when she looks at me? Is she proud of me? Does she love me? Does she know me at all? The answers proved difficult –- because if she doesn't even know who I am, the daughter she loves is not me – just a delusional image of someone she thought is her daughter.

I believe in an ethical will, partly because I believe it can provide a form of comfort, especially for someone towards the end of their life. But it is more important, to say what needs to be said while we are still alive. As I watched my parents decline in health in these recent years, I wonder: do we have enough time?

Sadly, I suspect there will always be too many things left unsaid between my mother and myself.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

YOGA | This Week's Practice

My hip joints are aching a little from Friday's Hotflow class. R. put us through several series of hip-opening poses, especially the Lizard Utthan Pristhasana. Usually for the power classes we work a sequence towards a peak pose; peak pose for Friday night is Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II (shown in the picture on the left).

At this point of my practice, I can only manage to lift the front leg (somewhat unglamorously). R. tells us it takes a see-saw action and CORE STRENGTH to lift the back leg up into that beautiful balance. Ah. I have, what is politely called, "Baby Core." So.

I can feel a gain in strength over the past few months of intense power classes. But these are muscular strength in my limbs. Core strength is still elusive. As CS reminds us every Ashtanga I class -- it is the core that gives us that lightness to "float" back and forth. CS enjoys demonstrating that floating action. I have seen him float from Crow up into a Handstand. It's impressive.

I wonder when will I be able to do it? (Yes, I know yoga is more than the asana, but damn it! I want!)

But this week's practice has its highlight on Wednesday: On Wednesday evening, M. felt a general low energy in the class. So she decided we should work on backbends instead.

Thank you, M. I love backbends.

We tried a Full Pigeon, but alas, my arms can't reach my back toes yet. One day. One day I will be there. Meanwhile, I continue to practice.

But most of all, the Wednesday practice allowed me to practice some of my favourite poses, like the Side Plank with a backbend variation -- which was something B. used to lead us through in his Anusara classes. Sometimes it would lead up to the Wild Thing, which never fails to invigorate me.

As Anusara teacher, Desiree Rumbaugh wrote, "Anusara founder John Friend teaches that it's not just the shape of a pose that can make it magnificent or therapeutic, but the energy and intention behind it, as well."

The Wild Thing is a great heart-opener taught by John Friend. Your heart soar, your entire body just open, release to something greater than yourself. This particular pose resonant with something deep within me. Each time I come to it, I feel wonderful, as though in a state of grace. I love it.

I miss my Anusara classes. *sigh*

May Those Who Lose Their Way

I was browsing the Spring 2008 issue of Tricycle magazine and I came across this short prayer:

May those who lose their way and stray
In misery, find fellow travelers,
And safe from threat from thieves and savage beasts
Be tireless, and their journey light.

~ Shantideva

My whole life I have felt lost, without direction. Things are better now -- not that I have a better idea of where I'm going, just that I have learnt to be a little more at ease with not-knowing. It's about faith, I think, to be able to sit with the unknown. Faith keeps you open to the unfolding experience of life. Most of us however, would prefer to control the circumstances of our lives.

I wrote this description of myself back in 2005:

I wish I know where I am going, while paradoxically recognizing the journey of being lost is the truest adventure. So meanwhile, I'm fucking up trying to find my way and pissed off about it.

This has not yet changed. So while I've updated my avatar a few times, I'm keeping this personal description.

One of the best gifts in my life are my "fellow traveller." My friends -- the handful of them who stayed with me through the difficult times, when it would be easier to walk away. I don't thank them enough. Having them in my life makes me want to be the kind of friend who will be there for others.

On Elizabeth Hardwick (1916–2007)

At a memorial service for Elizabeth Hardwick, Darryl Pinckney and Joan Didion shared their memory of the late co-founder of The New York Review. The full article is available online.

From Darryl Pinckney:

"Sometimes she read in order to write, in order to begin, to find her way in. She agreed with Virginia Woolf that to read poetry before you wrote could open the mind. She typed at a desk upstairs in her apartment on West 67th Street; she typed at her heavy machine on the dining room table. She wrote in big handwriting on legal pads that then waited on end tables for her doubts; she wrote in little notebooks that she tucked between the cushions of the red velvet sofa. When she wrote, books piled up all around her, opened, or face down, each asking questions of her, whispering about the way in."

... ...

"Writing was not a collaboration. In the solitude of the blank page, everyone was up against the limits of himself or herself."

From Joan Didion:

"She understood at the bone the willful transgression implicit in the literary enterprise—knew that to express oneself was to expose oneself, that to seize the stage was to court humiliation—and she accepted the risk. Every line she wrote suggested that moral courage required trusting one's own experience in the world, one's own intuitions about how it worked."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Amanda Overmyer is Top 12 on American Idol 7

I have to say, not the greatest performance, but she is the only reason I am even interested in American Idol. I hope she stays.

Changed My Avatar

It's 2008, and I am bored with the Lena Headey avatar (but this does not mean I am bored of Lena Headey). I've updated my avatar to that of Ellen Page dressed up as Patti Smith's picture on the Horses album. So when I comment on blogspot, you see Ellen Page.

Until I find another picture.

QUIZ | Which Supervillian Are You?

Your results:
You are Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix
The Joker
Dr. Doom
Lex Luthor
Mr. Freeze
Poison Ivy
Green Goblin
A prime example of emotional extremes: Passion and fury incarnate.
Click here to take the Super Villain Personality Test

I totally approve of this result. Although, I wouldn't mind it if I get Mystique or Magneto either.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Eulogy to My Uncle B

I feel like I need to say something more about my Uncle B. He was one of the likeable members on my dad's side of the family.

The image that came to my head is the four nurses who showed up unexpectedly to pay their respect.

So, here goes:

Even if you only knew him for a few months, you would come to his funeral. He is the kind of guy who makes good, strong impressions on people.

He smiled a lot. He talked to people kindly, and I have never heard him say anything mean about anyone in my life.

Rest in peace, Uncle B.

Home After My Uncle's Cremation

I had to take a day off today, for my uncle's cremation. I'm back home now and I'm wondering if I should show up for yoga class. Probably not.

My relationship to my family is complicated, partly because I always feel the need to restrain (and suppress) myself in front of my relatives. Family, especially certain aunts, can be vicious and petty. But today was considerably painless, I guess because today everyone is on their best behaviour.

One of my cousin is working in the Middle East right now. He was in town for Chinese New Year, flew back to the Middle East on Monday -- but he bought a ticket home again when he found out about my uncle's passing. His plane landed just in time today for the service today.

My uncle was a retired school teacher and some of his former students were there.

Four of the nurses from the nursing home where my uncle was staying during the last few months of his life came. We were surprised that they bothered. It was very sweet of them. My dad said it was probably because my uncle was such a good-natured guy. He was. My late uncle was a man with layback charms. He had no airs, and he was kind to people. He obviously left a deep enough impression with the nurses in the final months of his life.

My cousin, G. was crying during the service. I didn't ask her about it, because her tears seem private. She lost her father a few years ago to liver cancer. She was going to donate part of her liver to help her father, but he passed away before the operation.

During the service when the congregation was chanting, I stared at the black-and-white photo of my uncle -- my dad's second older brother -- and I found myself focusing on the family resemblance between my uncle and my dad. They have the same ears, they share the likeness in their eyes and their mouths -- but my uncle had a sharper, more V-like face.

My eldest aunt and cousins were looking around the coffin earlier in the afternoon. Apparently they were looking for "lucky numbers". (There's the belief that sometimes the dead will pass on "lucky number" for the lottery. It's their way of rewarding the living, I guess. My eldest aunt seems to be the expert in discerning lucky numbers. She won $20,000 in the lottery a while back, and it financed a holiday to Beijing)

It was so traditional I couldn't help just smile. Uncle M saw what they were doing, and he just muttered (with good-humour), "Fortune-hunters."

There was no lucky number on the coffin, but when the chartered bus arrived, Eldest Aunt piped, "The bus has numbers." And she scrambled off to the carpark.

This is not to say we were enjoying ourselves at my uncle's funeral. We loved my uncle and we grieve his passing. My Eldest Aunt wept during the service -- she loved her younger brother. But in the space between, the living were just being themselves, doing strange things like looking for lucky numbers. It felt bearable, being with my extended family during the funeral.

Cousin G. drove us home after the cremation. On the way G's mother started gossiping about the other relatives, and other families. G understood that her mother is one of the "Vicious Aunts" I have always tried to avoid.

G's mother spoke badly about how some children from a particular family grew up reprobates. How they take drugs, have tattoos, and two of them have homosexual relationships.

That was when I shut off mentally. People die, and the living just continue being themselves.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

10 Ways to Save Money on Books

(Found this via Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind)

All very sound advice. Goodness knows we all need to save a little money. Application may be a little tricky though. But I wholeheartedly applaud this little nugget: Frequent your public library.

When I was growing up, my parents brought me to the library more often than the shopping mall. They are the kind of parents who are reluctant to spend money on frivolous items -- like toys, fanciful clothes, impractical shoes, make-up. The only things they are really willing to pay for were books. But they also believe in the library.

So do I.

Frequent your public library. It's also better for the environment.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Dying Art of Letter Writing

In the video below from the TED presentation, Lakshmi Pratury talks about letter-writing, and shares a series of letter her father wrote her before he died. The value of her father's letters to her, in journals and notes, in his own handwriting -- are priceless. They are more personal and valuable than any well-written emails. It makes you want to just pick up a pen right now and write a letter to someone you love.

[I've fixed the embedded code for the video. But in case it still doesn't show up, you can view the video here]

I've watched this video a few times and I still love it. I still chuckle at the same moment in the video, where Lakshmi Pratury tells the audience about how her father wrote about her strengths and weakness -- with "gentle suggestions for improvement."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Anyone Read Richard Yates?

Can I just run a poll on how many people have actually read Richard Yates? He's an author that my friend Missy have recommended to me more than once. But part of his appeal is the bleakness of his prose. In his fiction, there are sad people, living sad lives. They dream, only to realise they have been lied to all their lives: that there never was this thing known as The American Dream.

I admit -- it sounds so depressing I have avoided it for a long, long time.

The Guardian visits the works of this American writer. They describe his works as such:

'My characters all rush around trying to do their best, trying to live well within their known and unknown limitations,' Yates explains. 'Doing what they can't help doing, ultimately and inevitably failing because they can't help being the people they are.' This tragic sense is what singles him out from a legion of lesser contemporary chroniclers of failed middle-class lives. 'He sees how valiantly people try, how they struggle with their own mediocrity,' says Hare. 'They're half-good, half-gifted, and it isn't enough against the immense forces of luck and circumstance.'

If we're doing Outmoded Author Challenge: Round 2, Richard Yates seems like someone to add to the list.

Or, Outmoded Author Challenge 2: The American Edition.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Billie Holliday sings Strange Fruit

History behind the song here

Trailer for Romance of The Three Kingdom: Resurrection of the Dragon

First, I would like to point out that it would be ridiculous to take anything in this film as historical facts. It's very loosely inspired by Romance of the Three Kingdoms -- the classical war epic written by Luo Guangzhong six centuries ago -- but except for some shared characters, you would not recognise the film from the book. The plot, as offered by Karazen News goes:

The young Zhao Ziling (Andy Lau) goes to war against Cao Cao, a cunning politician and military strategist. Finally, Cao Cao’s forces are sent into retreat, but the battles between feuding warlords continue for sixty years. Zhao Ziling, now an old man, must finally take to the field against Cao’s warrior grand-daughter, Cao Ying (Maggie Q.)

Everything says "B Grade Big Budget War Epic" waiting to happen. What say you that Andy Lau and Maggie Q's characters end up in love?

That said, the trailer for the movie looks fun -- in a "I have 20 millions to spend on this movie" sort of fun. While it has Andy Lau and Maggie Q as the leads, I am more keen to watch Sammo Hung on the big screen after his long hiatus. (I snickered at the thought of Vaness Wu on screen)

Friday, February 15, 2008

“10 signs a book has been written by me” meme

  1. At least one of the characters will be into punk-rock. Or the cello.
  2. At least one of the characters practice yoga or is a yoga teacher.
  3. There will be at least one beautiful red-head.
  4. There will be pain.
  5. Characters will have unusual or exotic names like Bodhi, Autumn Dusk, Allegra, Midnight Blue, Radha.
  6. The story will end with someone losing or letting go of someone they love.
  7. It will be an epistolary novel.
  8. There will be lesbian(s). With tattoos.
  9. There will be reference to some kind of myths or Greek plays.
  10. There will be at least one appearance by an existential vampire.

The Greatest Beauty of the Writing Life

Pico Iyer, on the writing life [free sign-in required]:

Perhaps the greatest beauty of the writing life is that it offers you concrete evidence of all your changes; the pages you write are like those charts nurses place at the end of your bed to map your progress. Whatever you need to know about yourself is there, if only you know how to read it. And as time went on, I started to realize something most unexpected: I was turning Japanese.

Lena Headey

Interview with Lena Headey in the Daily Mail. This just cracks me up:

I knew 300 was going to be a success and really enjoyed filming it, although having half-naked men on set certainly helped. They'd all been working out for six months prior to shooting and they looked amazing, strolling around in leather pants. But as the days wore on I started to think: "Oh, do put a jumper on, for goodness sake!" They would sit around flexing and comparing muscles saying: 'Oh, I must go and lift some weights', while I was virtually ignored.

We Need To Fight Our Own Battles

Sometimes I think my friend, The Brat is so wise.

She wrote on her blog about how her boss was nice enough to watch out for her, offering to step in should her colleagues make things difficult. But she maintained:

But i told him, "I need to fight my own battles." Which is true. Because if i get him to fight my battles for me, nobody will respect me, not one bit. I wouldn't respect me.

Here I am, upset about my friend for the past two days -- but the moment I read this, something suddenly made sense.

One of the reason behind my frustration with my friend is that I have always been stepping in when she makes a mistake. I thought I was looking out for her, fulfilling the role as a "Big Sister". I was wrong.

All these time that I have to fight her battles for her, a resentment builds up. Day by day, my respect for her wears thin -- and I think she knows it. Every time I step in when she is in trouble, it's a statement -- that I don't think my friend can take care of herself. Am I surprised she would come to resent me?

And isn't it just my ego at work here? She doesn't need me to take care of her. It is partly my deluded sense of self-importance that let me to believe I was her "guardian", that I couldn't just let her on her own.

She is an adult; she will choose her own mistakes. She will fight her own battles, and learn to respect herself in the process.

And I have to learn that I can't undo my own mistakes through her.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I Want To Watch American Idol!

I'm not an American Idol fan. Really. I have NEVER watched a single full episode of that show and I'm actually proud of that. But I just watched the performance of one of the final 24 on this new season, and I think I want to watch American Idol just for Amanda Overmyer.

Her singing Joplin's "Mean Woman" for the audition was good, but I was blown by her rendition of "Light My Fire":

I know she will probably be ousted a few episodes down -- because the show is not about how well you can sing. I also believe the public that vote for this kind of show isn't always appreciative of that gravelly, brassy vocals of hers.

But for as long as it lasts, I really want to watch this girl perform.

Can You Just Walk Away?

This picture of the cat sort of reflects my mood today. So.

I decided to give myself a Valentine's Day break tonight by skipping Ashtanga class. I must have been more tired than I realise. I fell asleep on the bus. When I woke up I was three bus-stops from home and Tegan and Sara was playing on my earphones.

I haven't been reading much lately, although I like the two books I have been reading on my way to work: Shadow of the Silk Road and A Time To Keep Silence. Hopefully I have something to share when I finish them. I think I will read Herodotus this weekend though. And maybe catch Juno at the cinema.

I have an idea why I feel so sullen suddenly. It's something that has troubled me for a very long time, but I've simply avoided thinking about it. Yesterday the issue was thrusted back into my face in an ugly way, and I think I need to seriously consider what to do.

Did you ever think you could out-grow a friendship? Not because he or she has changed -- but because your priorities has changed?

I am not a sociable person. I keep to myself a lot, or else I tend to keep to the same small group of friends. As such, each time I lose someone, it feels like tearing a part of myself.

There is a friend I have known for many years. We have drifted apart the past few years. Our interests -- or rather mine -- has changed: I became interested in Buddhism. I took up yoga. I stopped eating meat. I became happier.

I thought being a happier person means you will automatically learn to be a better friend. But what if your friend actually prefers to be unhappy? What if the reason for your friendship was this shared unhappiness?

Something happened yesterday. I thought something my friend did was selfish, unprofessional -- even a little irresponsible. It wasn't so much what she did that bothered me. That she was unapologetic about it was what really made me consider the question: is this the kind of friendship I want in my life? The truth is, my friendship with her has been feeling pretty toxic for the past couple of years. She is insecure, like myself -- and often, her insecurities lead her to lash out unfairly at those around her. I speak to her about this, and often we argue, then she accuses me of acting superior now that I am Buddhist and "enlightened".

It smarts. I tried to speak to her about her impulse control issues not because I am better than her -- but because I have been there. And it has costed me so much. I have lost too many friends because I was angsty and angry, and I really don't want her to have to suffer the way I did. She is younger than me, and she reminds me of a younger version of myself -- the passionate, angsty, insecure girl who really just wants to be accepted. I see how her irrational anger has already alienated a lot of people -- it's just that they don't discuss it in front of her. They are afraid of her.

She told me many times, how she regrets never being able to keep any friends throughout her life. Somehow, she always end up losing them. I empathise with her, and it makes it difficult to walk away; I would be yet one more friend who failed her.

And because I see myself in her, to abandon her would mean betraying myself in a way. A lot of my friends left me from long ago, but some stayed -- and I love them for that. What kind of friend do I want to be? A quitter, or someone who stays? Or am I trying to justify staying in a friendship that is getting increasingly abusive?

I feel like I am caught in a hostage situation -- because I cannot accept the choices she makes that hurts others, or which involves stealing. She is not a bad person -- but she makes some really bad choices.

I cannot look away at the harm she is inflicting on herself and on others, just because she is my friend. But she accuses me of judging her by my "superior" standards -- standards and principles which she does not abide by. That is true, to a certain extent. There is something judgemental involved. I do not deny my own ego in this.

She is selfish, and greedy, and despicable, she tells me -- and if I am not happy with that, so be it, she tell me.

Last Christmas, she left me a present and a Christmas card. Inside the card she thanked me for my friendship all these years. I did not know how to respond, so I did nothing. How do I tell her that I feel stressed trying to be her friend? That while it would hurt me, I know I would be more relieved not to have to stay around for her drama anymore?

And if I am making the right decision -- why do I feel bad about it?

Winterson on How Money Shouldn't be the Most Important Thing In the World

Jeanette Winterson has a column in The Times. In this piece, she suggests a reading list for capitalists, for whom money seems to be the only thing that matters. The way she begins the essay just cracks me up:

A FRIEND OF MINE HAD A TERRIBLE dream in which she was marooned on an island and menaced by penguins, pelicans and too-big ladybirds. Fortunately, she had a good Jungian analyst, who pointed out that these oppressive creatures were all books.

Read it right to the end:

My godchild Eleanor, who is 11, recently built a virtual Hell. Fair enough, she had been tackling Dante in a prose translation, and we talked quite a bit about how society develops its moral and ethical code, which for the sake of civilisation, has to be more than a penal code.

Eleanor's Hell swarmed with streets of people ignoring each other or throwing up (she lives in Spitalfields in London). There's an abattoir, Bernard Matthews turkeys, a weapons plant called Protection, a child-labour sweatshop and its fancy high street outlet, and...Northern Rock. When I asked her what these things had in common, she said that Hell is a place where nobody gives a stuff about how much unhappiness they cause, as long as they are having a good time and/or making money.

Her god-daughter is such a dear. :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tonight is Moon Salutations

My energy level is a little low tonight, but I went for my Power class anyway. I thought I would be exhausted after tonight's class, but as it turns out, the teacher decided to do Moon Salutations tonight.

My balance poses are weaker than usual tonight. I guess I lack focus. After class I was surprisingly sullen. I didn't feel like talking to anyone. I met my yoga teacher in the lift going down, and it was the most awkward silence for about a minute. Usually I would at least smile at people after yoga classes. Tonight my energy is just heavy and dull. I wonder why? Is it because it's Moon Salutations?

Or is it the hormones?

A little bit on literature:

The Guardian's World Literature Tour goes to Romania

On their last trip, The Guardian visited that ambiguous space know as Chinese Literature. I made my recommendation for Louis Cha – one of the most read Chinese author among Chinese language readers around the globe – yet sorely unknown among English language readers.

You can see my comments and recommendations here where I posted as Pagan25.

Yeah, Right.

Saw this on Yahoo! News: Reaching 100 is easier than suspected

Sure. Just try not to DIE before you get there.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Meme | Page 123

I saw this on Nymeth's blog recently. Then was tagged by Yogamum. So, I do meme.

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more.

Ha ha. It is Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health - the anniversary edition that celebrates Iyengar's 90th birthday. Yes, I have it just lying around at my desk.

Find Page 123.

Find the first 5 sentences.

They list the benefits of Paschimottanasana, among which is the treatment for impotence. I kid you not.

Post the next 3 sentences.


"Stretch from the seat of the buttocks and feel the lightness in your buttock. This is the heart of the perfect pose."

The Passing of a Grand Dame

Ah Meng is dead. It even made front page news in the local papers. How cool is that?

As long as I could remember, we always had Ah Meng. Ah Meng, the grand dame of orangutans, has for many years until her retirement, been the mascot and unofficial icon of the Singapore Zoo -- and by that extension, of Singapore. In some odd way, she was Family.

I vote we scrap that awful Merlion and adopt the Orangutan as our national symbol instead. An orangutan is way cooler than a hybrid creature vomiting water.


[Full article here.]

Yes, I know my posts are getting weird. It's that kind of day.


Stu mentioned the UK Sunday Telegraph ran an obituary on Ah Meng. It's true!

They wrote this at the end:

Ah Meng died on Friday. The cause of death is thought to be old age. She was said to have been nearly 95 in human terms.

She had five children and is also survived by her partner Charlie and six grandchildren.

Her first companion Rodney died in 1987 from diabetes complications. Her second relationship, with Pusung, ended when he was sent to an Adelaide zoo for a breeding programme in 2000.

Ah Meng survived two husbands? Good for you, girl!

I like how the obituary reads like it could have been written for an actual human.

That's respect for primates, man!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

WoYoPracMo | Just Makes You Smile

I've been reading the posts on WoYoPracMo everyday. I don't always comment, because sometimes all I have to say is: "Good for you!" That sounds trite even to me.

It's really a wonderful thing that Yogamum set up. It truly is an online sangha, where we talk about our practice, and everyone just supporting each other one way or another.

Sometimes I would read a post on WoYoPracMo, and the sense of joy and wonder in the writing just makes me smile.

I am so glad I signed up for this.

It's Sunday, which means tomorrow's Monday

I missed the new Kundalini class by about 10 minutes this morning, so I went for Power Yoga instead. It's a shame. I was curious about what Kundalini is all about. I googled it of course, but the description on Kundalini yoga is a little abstract. I get the idea there's some chanting and meditation involved, and the classes are longer - 90 minutes at the studio where I practice - but otherwise, I have no idea what it is about.

I'll see if I can make it next week.

It's Monday tomorrow. That means it's the first day back to work after a four day break. But on the upside, Monday is when M., my yoga teacher comes back from her yoga training course in India. I so look forward to practice with her again.

This also means after the barrage of blog posts the past few days, we're back to a blog whisper. (Not blog silence, but more a dainty, lady-like whisper. And we cover our teeth when we giggle.)

Have fun, y'all.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Progress is how quickly you can come back

Susan Piver writes about meditation, fear and the other negative emotions:

I once ran into a friend and fellow practitioner as I was exiting a contentious business meeting. He could see that I was upset. (My sobbing must have given me away.) I explained what had happened at the meeting and then expressed dismay at the weakness of my Buddhist practice: “I must be a very poor practitioner if one jerk can throw me so completely into hysterics.” He said, “So you think that not getting upset is a sign of progress?” I realized that I had been hoping it was. “No,” he said. “Progress is how quickly you can stabilize your attention on what you’re feeling. Progress is how quickly you can come back.”

Full article here.

I too believe that if I just practice hard enough, long enough, I will stop feeling the negative emotions; I would be "purified". Each time I find myself angry, jealous, arrogant - I tell myself that I have not practiced hard enough. Or, that I have failed somehow.

I need to remember this.

Gleanings from Magazine: Beginner's Mind

Every month I buy a few magazines and I subscribe to a few more. I don't always manage to read them thoroughly though. Right now I'm just catching up with the January 2008 issue of Shambhala Sun.

Here's Frances Moore Lappé on the importance of "Beginner's Mind":

A student comes to assume that the foundational questions have all been settled and that to advance knowledge—and get ahead in your chosen field—you have to break ground at the frontier, not go "backward" to fundamentals. The discipline itself becomes the frame through which we see—or fail to see. I recall Jane Goodall saying that archaeologist Louis Leaky chose her to observe chimps precisely because she has not been trained. Leaky's hunch was that Goodall would see what professional anthropologists gave missed. He was right.

Knut Plays Dead

It's really too sweet not to share this picture of Knut just lying there like a bear-rug.


Yes, I know when he grows up he will be able to take my face off with a single bite. And he's turning green and not as cute these days. But here in this picture he's a fuzzy little bear-rug. Awwwwww....

Friday, February 08, 2008


 IT little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades 10
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades 20
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire 30
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,--
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail 40
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me--
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil; 50
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 60
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 70

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Jodie Foster on Vanity Fair

Thanks to Kisane, I did some digging for Jodie Foster on Vanity Fair's upcoming Hollywood issue. This issue has Annie Leibovitz recreating classic Hitchcock moments with celebrities. Here is Jodie Foster posing for a shot from The Birds.

Booking Through Thursday | What Else Do You Do...

Okay, even I can’t read ALL the time, so I’m guessing that you folks might voluntarily shut the covers from time to time as well… What else do you do with your leisure to pass the time? Walk the dog? Knit? Run marathons? Construct grandfather clocks? Collect eggshells?

Visitors to my blog would already know I spend a lot of time doing yoga. I tried to maintain a 5~6 days a week practice, but when I signed up for WoYoPracMo back in January, I have managed to keep up with a daily practice.

I've been trying to get back to running recently. But right now it's the monsoon season - and it's been raining frequently. So, I've been running just a little.

I used to run (and swim, and hike, and camp) when I was in school. The school did not have a running track, so we always ran outdoors and had fun doing it.

I dislike the treadmill.

I am something of a film-bluff. Among my friends are connoisseurs of European (mainly French and Italian), Chinese, Korean and Japanese cinemas, so we spend a lot of time talking about films of all sorts - and gossiping about actors of course. In fact, I always run into people I know at the local film festivals, some of whom I ONLY meet at the film fests.

While I enjoy films from all around, I guess I have a particular fondness for quirky, indie productions (eg. films like Juno). But I am not an expert in any genre, more a "generalist." And I would watch ANY movies as long as my favourite actors are in it - such as Tilda Swinton, Gerard Butler, Ellen Page, Parker Posey, Lena Headey, Rachel Weisz, Lili Taylor, Helen Mirren, Johnny Depp, Patricia Clarkson, Hugh Jackman, Jodie Foster, Christian Bale - okay, too many to count. I have recently dropped Angelina Jolie from my list of "must watch" actress, because she has gone all funny since she married Brat Pitt.

I have too many DVDs at home, all of them fighting for space with my books and CDs.

I am not above enjoying Hollywood productions, but I am increasingly cynical about how formulaic a lot of Hollywood productions have become, and how they often water down a good story for the sake of appeasing public sentiments.

I also watch plays. I try to support local plays, local drama companies - but watching a play is often more expensive than watching a film.

I'm into music, which would again explain the frequency of the music posts on this blog. I spend a lot of time just listening to music. People call it "lazing around doing nothing", I call it "quality solitude". I can't pin down what genre I am into - I guess I'm into punk, alternative/indie rock - although I have been known to pick up a few country, blue-grass, jazz and classical CDs once in a while. I adore the music of Patti Smith, Sleater-Kinney, Rachael Yamagata, kd lang, Sarah Maclachlan, the Pixies - and once again, too many to list.

When I can, I go for gigs, or concerts.

I think the cello makes the most beautiful instrumental sound in the world.

I spend too much time online, trawling the net for the latest entertainment news. But ironically, not enough time refining my blog posts. My posts can be so much better if I bother to do more editing and re-writing. ;p

A lot of these past-times are often done alone, I realise.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

MUSIC | k.d. lang, Duffy and Cat Power

I found out from the new issue of Shambhala Sun magazine that k.d. lang has a new album out recently, entitled Watershed. Her last album was a duet with Tony Bennett, and before that, Hymns of the 49th Parallel was a collection of covers. Watershed, as the title implies, mark a significant moment of her 25 year music career. This is the first time she is producing her own album, and I like the simplicity of the songs on the album. Often in an artiste's career, they come to a point when they know they no longer have anything to prove. Their music takes on a contemplative tone, they are at peace with themselves and that is when their music becomes more personal, and perhaps more intimate. This album reminds me of that.

This video is of k.d. lang performing "I Dream Of Spring" at "An Enduring Vision," a benefit for the Elton John AIDS Foundation on September 25th, 2007.

I still stand in awe of this amazing voice.

Someone pointed me to upcoming Welsh singer, Duffy recently as the new act to check out. So I did, and I find myself a little taken with this retro 60s single, "Mercy". Oh, the dancing, the grooving, the moves. Makes me think of Edie Sedgewick.

Duffy's debut album, Rockferry, is schedule for a March 2008 release.

Cat Power's smokey vox is an amber, melancholic blend of cognac with French cigarettes. More than just a singer, she is chanteuse, with all the elegant association of smokey jazz cabaret, silk and glitter, and tragic, ruined lives.

Her new album, Jukebox is her second covers album, and as always, she does great songs in her own style. You wouldn't recognise the songs from their original - I didn't, until I paid attention to the lyrics.

This video is of Cat Power performing her version of Sinatra's "New York". I love the languor in that voice.

New Soul by Yael Naim

You probably have heard this song from the new MacBook Air advertisement. It's "New Soul", by Yael Naim. Since I don't watch TV, it took me a while to catch on, but I find myself hooked on the sunshine optimism of Yael Naim's song. The lady sings in French, English and Hebrew, being born in Paris but raised in Israel. I've been playing "New Soul" on a loop for a while. It's addictive, I swear.

Her star is definitely rising, after the little boost from Steve Jobs. Here's wishing her best of luck with her career, and hopefully success doesn't crush her creative soul.

"New Soul" video below, in its entirety.

Long Weekend. Dread the Relatives

Today is Chinese New Year, so, for anyone reading this who is Chinese, Happy New Year.

The greatest thing about Chinese New Year is that we get two days off work -- the first and the second day of Chinese New Year are public holidays. The downside is, most of the Chinese businesses are usually closed around the first two days at least. So, the coffee shop where I usually get my caffeine fix is closed, and I have to rely on Starbucks or Spinelli. I usually pick Spinelli's, because they seem to be the only cafe around town with a lunch menu that makes some consideration for the vegetarian.

This being the festive season, I should be happy, right? Okay, I love the long weekend - Thursday to Sunday - no work. But if you know anything about Chinese families, you may understand how annoying it can be to be an unmarried and unattached Chinese female during family gatherings.

There is little sense of propriety among my aunts. They somehow feel entitled to ask any personal questions that come to mind - like, "Why are you still not married? You're not that young anymore. You'll have complications when you want to have children later. You may end up having retarded children." (Oh god.) Yes, they say things like that.

Or, they would tell me things like, "Your upper forearms are thick, so you will be fat when you're forty." This particular nugget of information was conveyed to me at my aunt's funeral. I kid you not. Some decorum, please, Auntie.

One year my uncles suddenly cornered me and demanded I should do my sisterly duties and introduce a girlfriend to my similarly unmarried older brother. I was horrified, but they were dead serious. "Call your girl friends. Introduce them to your brother," they instructed me. I'm not going to set my friends up with my brother. That's gross, my friends dating my brother - especially since some of my friends actually give me a little too much information about their love/sex lives.

One time, an aunt actually blamed - yes, blamed my mom for my brother and I not being married. How dare my mother not put her feet down and do something about it, she exclaimed in outrage.

"It's up to them," says my mom mildly. "It's their lives." Thank you, mom.

I love the holidays, same as anyone else. It's my relatives that I can't deal. Can they just stay away from my love life?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

BOOKS | The Ends of the Earth

The Ends of the Earth
Edited by Elizabeth Kolbert and Francis Spufford

I couldn't resist it; the moment I found it on the library shelves, it HAD to be borrowed and read.

The Ends of the Earth collects Arctic and Antarctic related writings from a variety of writers, many of them known names in the field: Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott, Knud Rasmussen, Barry Lopez, Gretel Ehrlich, Diane Ackerman – and get this – H.P. Lovecraft. Elizabeth Kolbert selects and introduces the Arctic writings, Francis Spufford is responsible for the Antarctic writings.

I started with the Arctic writings; the North Pole is the top of the world, and I eat my ice-cream on the cone straight from the top. In the introduction, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote of her own fascination with the Arctic – and how almost all of the selections are by "outsiders to the region – explorers, adventurers, anthropologist, novelists."

The predominance of non-natives reflects the fact that Arctic people have, traditionally, transmitted their narratives orally, and also the fact that those who have been drawn to the area have, to an astonishing degree, felt compelled to record their impressions.

This anthology is inspired by the 2007-2008 International Polar Year (IPY), which will last until March 2009 to accommodate the researched in Antarctica. This is the 4th IPY – with a difference: this current IPY will focus on the pending disappearance of its subject, as a result of global warming. Temperatures have increased by about 6 degrees on average around the globe, but in the Arctic, the temperature has risen about twice as high.

Over the years, Kolbert has made several trips to the Arctic to report on how the region is changing. Most of the trips were made in the company of scientists, but she also spoke to many native people on the changes.

An Inuit hunter named John Keogak, who lives on Banks land, in the Inuvik Region of Canada's Northwest Territories, told me that he and his fellow-hunters had started to notice that the climate was changing in the mid-1980s. Then a few yars ago, people on the island began to see robins, a bird for which the Inuit in his region have no word.

The image of robins in the Arctic is a pretty one, but here they herald the arrival of something unnamed.

The arrival of robins in the Arctic reminds me of something in The Wild Places. It is about the climate changes, and how life – in this instance, the beechwoods – adapt, migrate.

The beech will be among the first tree species to die out in southern Britain if the climate continues to warm. Studies of beechwoods show that big old beeches are already beginning to lose their vigour long before their usual time, and trees of fifty years' growth are showing decline more usually associated with trees three times that age. Unlike the elm, however, the beech will not vanish; it will migrate. Beechwoods will follow the isotherms, searching for the cooler land, as the snow hares did after the Pleistocene. The beeches will fnd fresh habitats and ranges in the newly warmed north. Not the death of a species, then, but its displacement. The loss would still be great, though, and it could happen in my lifetime: the beechwood might die before my eyes.

The world is changing. Birds and trees are migrating, adapting to the changes on the planet.

How to listen to music with your whole body

Evelyn Glennie almost completely lost her hearing by the age of 12 -- but she went on to become a successful Grammy-winning percussionist. In this video below, she talks about her art. Her talk is stirring, especially when she explains how she "hears" the music through her hands, her arms, her body. How the tiniest difference in sound can be "heard" in the tinest parts of her fingers.

She also talks about how the Royal Academy of London rejected her application to study music, because they were not prepared to accept a deaf musician. She challenged their decision, and finally got in -- although she had to audition twice. But her courage in opposing the rejection was that it made the Academy reconsider their selection criteria, where they can no longer reject any applicants on disability -- but only on their musical abilities. It's impelling, really.

Oh, and that Scottish burr of hers is quite fun to listen to.

[Link via Lilalia]

[In case the embedded video don't load, click here for the link to Evelyn Glennie's talk]

Making Time For Reflection

Taken from The DailyOm

Going On Retreat

Giving ourselves time to reflect and heal can be a powerful way to process the things that are happening in our lives, and one of the best approaches to do this is by going on a retreat. Going on a retreat means that we have set the intention to heal and learn more about our spirit, and doing this is a decision that we make for ourselves.

Since everyone sees and experiences the world differently, it is important to choose a type of retreat that works best for us. Even though a friend or loved one may recommend something, we have to trust our intuition and select a path that really connects with what our soul needs most at the time. The most essential thing is to be willing to respect our unique stage of development and to be patient with ourselves since any thoughts or issues that arise are simply part of the process of healing. Just remembering that a retreat is an intense period of time where serious soul searching takes place can help us allow whatever may happen to us to fully unfold. Going on retreat may sound like a vacation, but most retreat experiences ask you to look deep inside of yourself, and sometimes this can be uncomfortable or stir the pot of our soul.

Putting our trust in the retreat process will make space for the necessary work we have to do, making it easier for our hearts and minds to explore wholly the innermost reaches of our soul. By paying attention to these messages, we pave the way for greater healing and transformation, since spending time in contemplation at a retreat will give us the gift of insight and understanding that we can use in all aspects of our daily lives.

Brooding Post, Even a Little Whiny

This week is a three-day work week; Thursday and Friday are the first two days of the Chinese New Year, and they are public holidays over here. With the long weekend coming up, I'm not in the mood to work.

This afternoon, in a moment of jovial openness, I started behaving a little playfully around a colleague – someone a few years younger than me. She suddenly just told me: "Stop it." It was unkind and dismissive. I was caught off guard.

I ended up brooding on this incident the whole day, and I can really brood when I set my mind to it. I wondered what have I done to warrant this strong reaction from this colleague (let's call her Killjoy); I wasn't disturbing her. Maybe she really disliked me, and my sudden unexpected behaviour triggered a deep-seated repugnance from within. Certainly, I would agree that people who don't know me well are used to a more sombre persona – but over the years I have learned to lighten up a little. I find it easier to laugh and smile at work these days. I am genuinely happier at work than I used to be.

But Killjoy's reaction this afternoon led to me one conclusion: sometimes it doesn't matter how much we have changed – if the other party is not prepared to modify their perception of you – the way they respond to you will be the same. If someone is determined to think of you as drunk, it doesn’t matter if you have not had a drink for 30 years – they are still going to treat you like a drunk. You just have to live with that, because otherwise you are going to get yourself caught up trying to defend yourself over and over. What a waste of energy.

What makes me angry with Killjoy right now, is that she has no idea who I am inside. She sees me at work almost everyday, so she assumes, like a lot of people do, that she has a good idea of what I am. She doesn't. I laugh often at work, and she has commented once too many times that: "It's so not you." It IS me. It just doesn't fit your stereotype of me.

I wonder what is truly bothering this young colleague, that she can't accept that someone can be serious and strict when she has to be, and still laugh spontaneously. There is a rigidity to her perception that is bothering me right now, because she is impinging on my right to laughter and spontaneity. It's like she's pushing me back on the chair everytime I get up to dance.

But I can't actually do anything about her issues – she'll have to sort out her issues herself. I only have governance over how I respond to someone who seems determined to be a killjoy.

I apologise if this is not a post of staggering wisdom or insight. Right now I am resentful and angry inside, because there are a few choice words I would like to throw back at Killjoy – but since I still have to work closely with her, it would be a bad idea.

Or maybe I'm just angry at myself, that I never allow many people to really get to know me. And the occasional moments when I allow myself to just be myself, I get told off by people like Killjoy. And that hurts, a little.

Then I wonder why am I still so bothered by these petty thoughts? Why is it the insecurities and fears of our childhood never seem to go away? I set up these protective armour around myself all my life, afraid of the rejection that will follow when someone finds out who I am inside. I pretend to be stronger and harder than I am. I have kept many things in my life secret to my friends - not because these things are important, but because I need that sense of security that comes from being able to control what people know about me.

And for what purpose?

As you can see: I am in a brooding mood tonight.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

WoYoPracMo | February Intentions

Time passes. January has moved on, and I am glad to have kept to the 31 days practice for WoYoPracMo. Much gratitude and love to Yogamum for being the activator of this online yoga sangha. Not many of my friends understand my yoga practice. Many see it as just a fitness regime, like kick-boxing, aerobics or gym. It is difficult to explain that this practice, has a deeper meaning for me -- as one of the WoYoPracMo member wrote, that it is "more than choreography".

Which is why it is great to read the experience of all these different people from all over. How we struggle with injuries, insecurities, unfamiliarity -- how we learn to expand on our practice, taking it outside the mat.

So much of it sounds familiar, and it is comforting to read about how someone out there - in Japan perhaps -- shares some of your own personal struggles.

Now that we have come to February, Yogamum proposes making “Deepening YOUR Practice” the theme for the month. Sounds good.

For February, I need to look into my foundations. This means going back to my neglected Shadow Yoga practice, more diligent home practice, and more corework.

On the upside, M., one of my favourite yoga teacher, is coming back from India soon. Yay!

BOOKS | The Wild Places as Self-Willed Places

As my reading goes, 2008 started pretty well. I finished The Wild Places recently, where author Robert Macfarlane goes in search of the wild places in Britain and Ireland. It was a nicely described journey, full of erudtion, mixing anecdotes, history and memories. It is the sort of writing I associate with Rebecca Solnit -- her books goes in a general direction, along the way she picks up on any associative idea that comes up.

I am a city-dweller born and bred, but there are times when I feel the oppressiveness of the city. I am easily awed by wide open spaces. I am the sort that stares for hours at the open sea. I believe geography impinges on the mind. This may explain why I was drawn to Macfarlane's book. The purpose behind his search for the wild places is a challenge of a sort, a refusal to accept what is believed to be the inevitable:

I did not believe, or did not want to believe, the obituaries for the wild. They seemed premature, even dangerous. Like mourning for someone who was not yet dead, they suggested an unseemly longing for the end, or an acknowledgement of helplessness.

It sounds utterly romantic, and I like it.

But first: What are the wild places?

Macfarlane traces the etymology of the word, 'wild' to the Old High German wildi and the Old Norse willr, as well as the pre-Teutonic ghweltijos. All three of these terms imply disorder and irregularity, describing something wilful, uncontrollable.

Wildness, according to this etymology, is an expression of independence from human direction, and wild land is self-willed land. Land that proceeds according to its own laws and principles ... Land that, as the contemporary definition of wild continue, 'acts or moves freely without restraint; is unconfined, unrestricted.'

Wild places as "self-willed" land -- the idea interest me. It always seems to me one of our most idiotic assumption is our right of might. We believe, because we have access to power and technology, we have the power to master the land. The idea of a self-willed land -- a powerful, independent entity that rebels against our idea of modernisation by its very existence, is comforting.

Macfarlane tells the story of how between 1946-1948, George Orwell spent 6 months of each year living and working in Barnhill, an exceptionally isolated stone-built cottage set on the tawny moors of the northern tip of the Scottish island of Jura. It was during those years that Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.

It was clear that Orwell needed to be in that wild landscape to create his novel; that there was a reciprocality between the self-willed land in which he was living and the autonomy of spirit which he was writing.

The domination of human will always has a connotation of mechanisation to me. If we believe in our power and authority to dominate nature, it is only a small step to our belief that we have the power and authority to dominate human will. We need to learn to respect the wild places, because it is about us learning to value something different, yet powerful and vibrant. And maybe, by learning to respect and appreciate these self-willed places, we might learn something about ourselves, if we allow it.

If you're interested, come June 2008, Penguin will release a paperback edition of The Wild Places in the US.

MUSIC | Walk Like An Egyptian

Let me just torment some of you guys with a song that has been playing in my head recently. I am a child of the '80s -- the era of some pretty groovy music with very BIG hair. I still can't get over the big hair.

Here's The Bangles performing Walk Like An Egyptian. I love the whistle bit. Oh, and that Egyptian walk :)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Faith, Stillness, Contemplation & Meditation 2007/08

A reading list on spirituality and spiritual practices around the world. A life-long project really. Why? Because I am ignorant.

Is there any titles I'm missing/should include? Recommendations will be greatly appreciated.

{24/09/07 Update} Added Viktor E. Frankl's Man Search for Meaning to this reading list. It's usually found in the Psychology section in the bookstores, but it's relevant as it's a meditation on meaning and humanity in the midst of extraordinary circumstances (trying to survive a Nazi death camp). Also added Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi -- because Csikzentmihalyi's idea of the flow seems to echo the Buddhist practice of mindful engagement.

I think I'm trying a cross-disciplinary approach to my enquiry.

  1. One Thousand Roads to Mecca: Ten Centuries of Travelers Writing about the Muslim Pilgrimage Edited by Michael Wolfe
    [05/09/2007 ~

  2. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

  3. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

  4. Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

  5. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

  6. No Man Is an Island by Thomas Merton

  7. The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong

  8. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

  9. The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron

  10. When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

  11. Bhagavad Gita

  12. Paths To God: Living the Bhagavad Gita by Ram Dass

  13. Novice to Master by Soko Morinaga [Translated by Belenda Attaway Yamakawa]

  14. The Yoga of Breath: A Step-By-Step Guide to Pranayama by Richard Rosen

  15. The Bible

  16. The Qu'ran

  17. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

  18. Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa W.Y. Evans-Wentz

  19. A Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor

  20. Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau

  21. Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar

  22. Light on Life by B. K. S. Iyengar

  23. Tao Te Ching attributed to Lao Tzu

  24. St Francis of Assisi by G. K. Chesterton

  25. Confessions by St. Augustine

  26. The Upanishads

  27. Dark Night of the Soul St. John of the Cross

  28. Gandhi the Man: The Story of His Transformation Eknath Easwaran

  29. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth by M. K. Gandhi

  30. The Sufis by Idries Shah

  31. Mahabharata

  32. Ramayana

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

  34. The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living by Stephen Cope

  35. Will Yoga & Meditation Really Change My Life? Edited by Stephen Cope

  36. The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century edited by Thomas Merton

  37. The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith by Irshad Manji

  38. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

  39. The End of Faith by Sam Harris

  40. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

  41. Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn

  42. Yoga Vasistha

  43. Yoga Beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice by Ganga White
    [06/08/2007 ~ 23/09/2007]