Friday, December 30, 2005

Quote: Patti Smith & The Bearded One

Someone sent me this:

"I'm not attracted to guys with beards. Maybe that's why Jesus bores me. Maybe if he shaved I'd dig him."

~ Patti Smith, GQ, Dec 2005 Issue

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Gogol: Taras Bulba

Taras BulbaTaras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol, translated by Peter Constantine.

A Russian crtic wrote this about Gogol, "Seldom has nature created a man so romantic in bent, yet so masterly in portraying all that is unromantic in life."

Ernest Hemingway calls Taras Bulba,"One of the ten greatest books of all time."

My impression of Taras Bulba? Lots of bloodthirsty, carousing Cossacks - an unbridled force of violence. If this is truly Gogol's attempt to portray the Ukrainian/Russian spirit, it's a scary one. I'm not used to Gogol in this light. Not sure I like it.

Everybody's Reading Everybody

Was re-reading the interview with Camille Paglia and this struck me:
"I was always in competition with the other big-name columnists -- who would shamelessly rob from me. You know, it's like I would be in Salon on Thursday, and something from it would show up in Maureen Dowd's weekend column, and so on. But I had to make sure that when people went to it that it didn't just seem to be a rehash of someone else's column."

From time to time it really seemed like different websites are reading each other and picking up on everybody else. For instance,'s Hillary Frey reviewed Rachel Ingalls' Times Like These on December 7th, 2005.

Then on December 23rd, 2005, The Village Voice similarly ran a review of the same book.

This is not the first instance of such coincidence. And Rachel Ingalls isn't a hyped-up author of the month. She's a relatively unknown cult author published by a small independent press that does not have the big publicity budget.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Five Best First Sentences

Taken from the New York Magazine Culture Awards 2005: Best in Books.

This is my personal favourite out of the category for The Five Best First Sentences

The Almond: The Sexual Awakening of a Muslim Woman by Nedjma
"I, Badra bent Salah ben Hassan el-Fergani, born in Imchouk under the sign of Scorpio, shoe size thirty-eight, and soon to reach my fiftieth year, make the following declaration: I don’t give a damn that Black women have delectable cunts and offer total obedience; that Babylonian women are the most desirable and women from Damascus the most tender to men; that Arab and Persian women are the most fertile and faithful; that Nubian women have the roundest buttocks, the softest skin, and passion that burns like a tongue of fire; that Turkish women have the coldest wombs, the most cantankerous temperament, the most rancorous heart, and the most radiant acumen; and that Egyptian women are soft-spoken, offer kind-hearted friendship, and are fickle in their constancy."

Friday, December 23, 2005


I was high on vodka last night when I got home. And in a state of alcoholic euphoria, my dad and I started to discuss Mongolia, then Tibet. The old man is retiring next year, and he has a trip to Tibet planned.

Then he asked if I could make it? It's about 10 days, in April.

I said yes.

So we'll see. I don't want to get my hopes up in case it doesn't happen. But imagine if I'm really going to Tibet with daddy.

P/S: Did I mention my mum offered to sponsor the Tibet trip last night?

Patti Smith

Her music invokes Burroughs, Blake, Rimbaud, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones; Patti Smith is the Poet Laureate of Punk Rock. Her iconic debut album, Horses is now out in a 30th Anniversary version.

["Three chord rock merged with the power of the word" ]

The first time I encountered Patti Smith's work was in a bookstore. It was Tower Books before it closed. In the poetry section was a slim square volume. Many of the photographs were by Robert Mapplethorpe. Text was by Patti Smith.

It was The Coral Sea, her small book of tribute to her late great friend, Mapplethorpe. She addressed the reader:

The first time I saw Robert he was sleeping. I stood over him, this boy of twenty, who sensing my presence opened his eyes and smiled. With few words he became my friend, my compeer, my beloved adventure.

When he became ill I wept and could not stop weeping. He scolded me for that, not with words but with a simple look of reproach, and I ceased.

When I saw him last we sat in silence and he rested his head on my shoulder. I watched the light changing over his hands, over his work, and over the whole of our lives. Later, returning to his bed, we said goodbye. But as I was leaving something stopped me and I went back to his room. He was sleeping. I stood over him, a dying man, who sensing my presence opened his eyes and smiled.

When he passed away I could not weep so I wrote. Then I took the pages and set them away. Here are those pages, my farewell to my friend, my adventure, my unfettered joy.

I liked what Patti Smith wrote, this tenderness and loss. But back then I was an impoverished student on an allowance. So I did not get the book.

A few years later I read about the album Horses. It was an article in The Rolling Stones magazine, and Michael Stipe raved about Patti Smith.

I picked up the CD, listened.

One song caught me, the opening lines, Patti Smith in her signature low, deep drawl:

Jesus died for somebody's sins
But not mine
Meltin’ in a pot of thieves
Wild card up my sleeve
Thick heart of stone
My sins my own
They belong to me. Me

I became a Patti Smith convert that night. I learnt what it meant to be punk.

The album cover of Horses (the picture above) was taken by Robert Mapplethorpe. I have framed this picture in an IKEA photo-frame. It sits in my room, like an icon, an alterpiece.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Notebooks: My Notebook

It’s a black flexi-covered journal with squared pages. Over the years it’s been through much abuse. The edges are water-stained and there are some scratches on the cover.

I purchased the notebook from the Paperchase section of Borders bookstore. It wasn’t cheap, but I was willing to buy it because it’s black and it has squared pages. If it was any other colour, or if the pages were ruled, no way (unlined pages however would have been ideal).

It’s about the size and look of a regular black leather Bible. I have not out-grow my amusement every time someone makes the same observation; the legacy of a mission school education.

I started flipping through the earliest entries of this weathered notebook. On the first few pages were the scribbled notes to a story that I first conceived of towards the end of my final year of University. The story continued to develop inside my head and a few years later I gave some of the key characters their final names, scribbled onto my notebook. But their story is still not yet ready to be written. I am still not sure how I am to resolve the plot.

After that, a small section was torn out. I know what the missing pages contained – letters to an ex that I was too ashamed to re-read. Good riddance.

More: poems by Mary Oliver, hand-copied. Then a short story set in Rome, written by Jeanette Winterson. I liked the story, and hand-copied it into my notebook so that I can bring it with me to be read on the road. One day I will go to Rome again. With the story, taking the No. 8 Argentina line.

The paper quality of its squared pages is excellent. The ink from my fountain pens does not seep through the pages – unlike the Moleskine. This is my greatest grievance with the Moleskine – this annoys me more than:

1) the steep price of Moleskine
2) the fact Moleskine only has 240 pages.

I estimate there is about 60 pages left in the journal. It will not last me till mid-2006, and so I’ve picked up two Moleskine journals to succeed this one. Paperchase at Borders seemed to have discontinued this range of journal.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Revising My 100 Books to Read

I'm revising my 100 Books to Read list, as expected.

I’m taking out:
Julian Barnes’s Flaubert Parrot
John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces
Charlotte Bronte’s Villette
George Eliot’s Middlemarch
Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry
John Berger's Ways of Seeing

Who am I kidding? I am not yet prepared to go back to the life where everything is the 19th Century British novel. So only one Charlotte Bronte. And no Middlemarch yet.

As for Sexing the Cherry - I have to say it is one of those Winterson books I did not enjoy. I thought a re-reading of Four Quartets may help shed new light on Sexing the Cherry. I regret, it did not. So, if I'm going to re-read Winterson, might as well be The Passion. Or Gut Symmetries.

Shortlist for replacement:
Antigone by Sophocles
Stories by Anton Chekhov
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
New Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Question is, should I take down the Qu'ran as part of my reading? I am both daunted and fascinated by it.

Will post the revised list once I've decided. *sigh*

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair

20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair
Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
[09/12/2005 ~ 10/12/2005]

Another poem from this collection that caught me. About yearning for the Beloved and the clenching heartache that comes with it.

Clenched Soul

We have lost even this twilight.
No one saw us this evening hand in hand
while the blue night dropped on the world.

I have seen from my window
the fiesta of sunset in the distant mountain tops.

Sometimes a piece of sun
burned like a coin in my hand.

I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.

Where were you then?
Who else was there?
Saying what?
Why will the whole of love come on me suddenly
when I am sad and feel you are far away?

The book fell that always closed at twilight
and my blue sweater rolled like a hurt dog at my feet.

Always, always you recede through the evenings
toward the twilight erasing statues.

She Wrote What?!

Taken from, Stephanie Zacharek's film review of The Chronicles of Narnia:
But I'm not sure the Jesus imagery in "Narnia" is any more overt than what you get in "E.T." (he does, after all, have the power to heal and to rise from the dead).
It warranted a raised eyebrow. ;)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Library and Reading

The NLB has recently doubled the lending quota to the public. This means you are now allowed to loan 16 books (or 8 books + 8 DVDs) instead of the usual 8.

This unfortunately put a dampener on my reading list, since part of the reason I have so many unfinished books is there's always many other books to read. And as I've mentioned it in an earlier blog: all books ultimately refer to other books.

Some of the titles I've borrowed in the last two weeks:

1. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
It's on my 100 Books to Read, so I'm not going to feel guilty about it. In the end, I find myself drawn to the few poems touched with loss. Still, my favourite in the collection remains Tonight I Can Write.

2. 100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda
What can I say, I got carried away on a Pablo Neruda wave. Apparently these are love poems to his wife.

3. Poems and Readings for Funerals selected by Julia Watson
The 70 poems and prose extracts range from Shakespeare to Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee Nation. And of course it must include W. H. Auden's Funeral Blues - the poem John Hannah read in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Not all my friends will marry. Some may never fall in love. But they will all eventually die.

4. Gilgamesh a version by Stephen Mitchell
One more on my reading list.

5. Greene on Capri by Shirley Hazzard
Shirley Hazzard is one of those authors I will get to, if I ever get around to reading them. Hazzard and her husband were friends with the late Graham Greene; they met on the lovely island of Capri during the 1960s. Reminiscence of a mighty friendship:
'When friends die, one's own credentials change: one becomes a survivor. Graham Greene has already had biographers, one of whom has served him mightily. Yet I hope that there is room for the remembrance of a friend who knew him - not wisely, perhaps, but fairly well - on an island that was "not his kind of place," but where he came season after season, year after year & where he, too, will be subsumed into the capacious story.'
I love Graham Greene's writing. Will write more on him when I get around to The Quiet American.

6. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon.
It's a novella, so I figured it's going to be a quick read. Have read Chabon's The Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I find that he's actually capable of being funny in the Wonder Boys, but he took a route down pathos in Kavalier and Clay.

Final Solution guest-stars a once-famous detective obsessed with bee-keeping. Into his life wanders Linus Steinman, nine years old and mute, who has escaped from Nazi Germany with his sole companion: an African grey parrot. Homage to a beloved literary figure. I hope Chabon does better than Caleb Carr did with The Italian Secretary.

7. Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
Now a movie starring Juliette Binoche and Richard Gere (who cares?).

Juliette Binoche plays a Jewish mother. Of a little girl who is a spelling bee. Little girl is not played by Dakota Fanning. Juliette Binoche is in this movie, so it's almost enough reason to watch. She has a delicate beauty about her, that when she comes on screen all you want to do is to look at her. And sigh.

Cut and paste from for the story:
Eliza Naumann, a seemingly unremarkable eleven-year-old, expects never to fit into her gifted family: her father, Saul, absorbed in his study of mysticism; her brother, Aaron, the vessel of his father's spiritual ambitions; and her brilliant but distant lawyer mother, Miriam. But when Eliza discovers an aptitude for competitive spelling, Saul takes it as a sign that she is destined for greatness. In this altered reality, Saul ushers her into his hallowed study and lavishes upon her the attention previously reserved for Aaron, who in his displacement embarks on a lone quest for spiritual fulfilment that leads him to the Hare Krishna. And when the unveiling of Miriam's secret life triggers an almighty explosion, it is Eliza who must order the chaos.

8. Nobody's Perfect: Writings From The New Yorker by Anthony Lane
I only picked this up after I read the introduction to it by Anthony Lane himself. He is hilarious in that British self-deprecating way.

9. Three Theban Plays: "Antigone","Oedipus the King","Oedipus at Colonus" translated by Robert Fagles & The Burial at Thebes translated by Seamus Heaney
Two versions of the plays by Sophocles. The one I'm currently looking into specifically is Antigone. In a nutshell, it's a story of civil disobedience; a woman whose conscience and duty supersedes the laws of the State. She dies at the end.

Monday, December 12, 2005

More on "Memoirs of a Geisha"

But really, it's about Gong Li. ;p

Oh, and the English.

Taken from Manohla Dargis's New York Times Review:
Ms. Gong's hauteur and soaring cheekbones work better for her character, a woman of acid resolve. Although there are moments when Hatsumomo comes perilously close to Dragon Lady caricature ("I will destroy you!"), the actress's talent and dignity keep the performance from sliding into full-blown camp. But even the formidable Ms. Gong cannot surmount the ruinous decision to have her and Ms. Zhang, along with the poorly used Mr. Yakusho, deliver their lines in vaguely British-sounding English that imparts an unnatural halting quality to much of their dialogue. The. Result. Is. That. Each. Word. Of. Dialogue. Sounds. As. If. It. Were. Punctuated. By. A. Full. Stop. Which. Robs. The. Language. Of. Its. Watery. Flow. And. Breath. Of. Real. Life. Even. As. It. Also. Gives. New. Meaning. To. The. Definition. Of. The. Period. Movie.

"Memoirs of a Geisha" is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). The film is as discreet as an unopened waterlily.

Memoirs of the Geisha: Orient Excess

Okay, I first saw the movie trailer for Memoirs of a Geisha during the Gala Premiere for Mirrormask. It opens with Ziyi Zhang's voice-over. I stopped myself (barely) from actually sticking my fingers into my ears to block out the poorly elucidated English.

Make no mistake: I do not like Ziyi Zhang. I find her sorely lacking in grace and charm. If she was less succesful I could forgive her - but since she's seen as THE ASIAN FACE of the world (okay, Hollywood) - I tend to be less forgiving.

Ms F says I am too harsh on Ziyi Zhang. Or was her exact word "unfair"? Can't remember. But then Ms F LURVES Hugh Grant, and for some reason I always mistake it for Hugh Jackman. Please, Hugh Grant? Huh?

Ms F and I will have to agree to disagree.

I thought I wasn't interested in Memoirs of a Geisha, but after this review, I decided I am going to watch it, just so that I can bitch about how much I hate it. If anything, Dennis Lin's Review in Village Voice articulates what I dislike about Hollywood Asian movies:
Chinese actresses play Japanese geisha (in a period concurrent with the Sino-Japanese war) and speak English the way Hollywood has always imagined Asians do, all stilted syntax and awkward enunciations ("You are! To become! Geisha!").
I laughed when I read it. So typical.

Oh yeah, and if Dennis Lin is right, I'm definitely watching it for the Ziyi Zhang vs Gong Li bitch-fight. My money will of course be on Gong Li. Always. Even in 2046 she kicks ass even when she's obviously not the winner

"I shall destroy you!" she hisses to Ziyi Zhang in the trailer.

So cheesy camp. I want! ;p

Girls Gone Wild: Garish geisha in Marshall's disastrous pageant of dragon-lady catfights
by Dennis Lim
December 6th, 2005 1:50 PM
[Article Taken from Village Voice]

In their great geisha dramas, Mikio Naruse and Kenji Mizoguchi bring an unblinking focus to the everyday realities of being a working woman: Naruse's Flowing (1956) is a crystalline portrayal of the okiya (geisha house) as a vanishing microcosm and a declining business. Arthur Golden's 1997 Memoirs of a Geisha—an exhaustively researched novel masquerading as an insider's tell-all—emphasizes exotic ritual: laborious face painting and masochistic hairdos, virginity auctions and patronage systems. The movie version of Golden's bestseller, from the director of Chicago, comes up with a new angle: In this garish pageant of dragon-lady vamping and drag-queen catfights, the geisha experience is roughly akin to working the bar at Lucky Cheng's.

Swaddled in the posh vulgarity that passes for awards-season elegance, Memoirs is deluxe orientalist kitsch, a would-be cross between Showgirls and Raise the Red Lantern, too dumb to cause offense though falling short of the oblivious abandon that could have vaulted it into high camp. While Golden's book was praised as a persuasive feat of ventriloquist empathy, Rob Marshall's movie is something of a lip-synch disaster: Chinese actresses play Japanese geisha (in a period concurrent with the Sino-Japanese war) and speak English the way Hollywood has always imagined Asians do, all stilted syntax and awkward enunciations ("You are! To become! Geisha!"). Golden coyly framed his novel as a translated autobiography, and the author invented for his stereotypical model of Eastern femininity an accordingly docile voice. The movie at least drops any pretense of authenticity, supplanting the whispery "Asianness" of Golden's prose with the heavy breathing of a filmmaker who goes weak-kneed at the merest glimpse of silk brocade.

Against the color-coded tumult of flicked fans and twirled umbrellas, the slenderness and predictability of Golden's fiction becomes painfully apparent. Drained of all anthropological value and incongruously imbued with Chicago's rancid showbiz cynicism, Memoirs is recast as an aspirational melodrama. Sold into an okiya in childhood, mysteriously blue-eyed Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), often shot through bars and slats in case we fail to grasp her caged condition, longs to escape servitude—to become! geisha!—which she does under the tutelage of the kindly Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) and despite the vengeful plotting of the slatternly Hatsumomo (Gong Li). She also yearns, somewhat creepily, for true love with a generous big shot known as the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), whom she meets as a prepubescent. And in the scheme of this movie, which dispenses with pesky World War II in one or two sonorous voiceover lines, what Sayuri wants, Sayuri gets.

"What do we know about entertaining Americans?" one geisha asks another, rallying to put on a postwar show. It's also Marshall's foremost concern, of course, and as he can attest, Americans—or at least Academy voters—are gluttons for that old razzle-dazzle. In this back-lot Kyoto, which seems to have been achieved by plopping down some pointy Asian roofs on the set of Chicago, something is always falling from the sky: rain, snow, and on special occasions, cherry blossoms. The overall aesthetic could be approximated by turning on a wind machine in a Chinatown souvenir emporium. With Marshall preoccupied picking out fabrics and lacquer veneers, the task of directing the actors seems to have fallen to the beleaguered dialect coach. To complement the clashing accents, Memoirs is a free-for-all of wildly divergent acting styles. Zhang's phonetic struggles are the most (mis)pronounced, but she throws herself heartily into the film's hilariously anachronistic big number, a splashy expressionist routine on platform clogs that would have cleaned up on So You Think You Can Dance?

The supporting actors, who include some of Asia's biggest stars, mount savvier defense strategies. Poised as ever, Yeoh seems to be meditating as much as acting, creating a zone of Zen self-containment. In a quietly subversive turn, charismatic Koji Yakusho, despite sporting a decorously scarred cheek, makes rival suitor Nobu a more enticing romantic prospect than the Chairman. Best of all, Gong uncorks a broad, gestural performance that both captures the spirit of the movie and signals her superiority to it. Memoirs scans as round two in the battle of the Zhang Yimou leading ladies, carried over from 2046, and this bout also goes to Gong. Clad in chinchilla-fringed outfits and hurling sidelong death glares, Gong's viperous Hatsumomo wipes the floor with Zhang's cowering Sayuri: "I shall destroy you!" she hisses in the most Showgirls-like scene. What's more, she doesn't overstay her welcome. Hatsumomo's dramatic exit seems to sum up Gong's attitude toward the film: She torches the place and defiantly strides away from the smoldering wreckage.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Notebooks: Moleskine

"Keepers of notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with a sense of loss."

~ Joan Didion

Obviously if you know me, you would already know about some of my affectations. One of them being my "thing" with fountain pens.

Recently I've acquired a new affectation: Moleskine Notebooks (pronounced mol-a-skeen-a). For the uninitiated, here's a a link to Wikipedia on Moleskine.

Moleskine is produced by an Italian stationary company Modo&Modo. They hardsell the moleskine as "the legendary notebook of Hemingway, Picasso, Chatwin."

Now, I'm not sure about Hemingway or Picasso, but I first learnt about Chatwin's compulsion for moleskine from The Songlines:

For lunch we had beer and a salami sandwich. The beer made me sleepy, so I slept until four. When I woke, I started rearranging the caravan as a place to work in. There was a plyboard top which pulled out over the second bunk to make a desk. There was even a swiveling office chair. I put my pencils in a tumbler and my Swiss Army knife beside them. I unpacked some exercise pads and, with the obsessive neatness that goes with the beginning of a project, I made three neat stacks of my 'Paris' notebooks. In France, these notebooks are known as carnets moleskines: 'moleskine', in this case, being its black oilcloth binding. Each time I went to Paris, I would buy a fresh supply from a papeterie in the Rue de l'Ancienne Comédie. The pages were squared and the end-papers held in place with an elastic band. I had numbered them in series. I wrote my name and address on the front page, offering a reward to the finder.

Some details on the product:

The Moleskine Notebooks have a cardboard bound cover with rounded corners and an elastic closure. An expandable inner pocket made of cardboard and cloth contains the Moleskine history. The acid free paper pages are thread bound.
Pocket size: 9 x 14 cm (3½ x 5½").
Large size: 13 x 21 cm (5 x 8¼").

I avoid ruled notebooks, preferring squared or plain pages for my scribbling.

[Squared Moleskine Notebook]

Notebook Squared

[Plain Moleskine Notebook]

Notebook Plain

I like the freshness of new notebooks. The paper is crisp, clean and you almost can't bear to sully the surface. Problem is - a notebook isn't much use if we don't write in it. So I usually break in my notebooks with a quote or something transferred from an older notebook - a sense of continuity in the chronicle perhaps.

I broke in my first moleskine (purchased 1st December 2005) by hand-copying T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets unto the pages. By slowly and meticulously writing out the poem we're forcing ourselves to re-read them in a more deliberate manner. And goodness knows T. S. Eliot needs to be re-read until he starts to make sense.

Moleskine - the English site by the makers of the Moleskine
BBC h2g2 on Moleskine - it's a lifestyle choice, moleskine! ;p
Moleskinerie - a network for moleskine fans around the globe

Deptford Trilogy

Wrapped up Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" last week and started on Robertson Davies' "The Deptford Trilogy."

Currently still in the early stages of the book, where the narrator survived the war, got his left leg amputated blah blah blah.

One of the character, a Mrs Dempster reminds me of an archetypal Holy Idiot. My mind made the cross-reference to Dostoevsky's The Idiot.

That is the thing with books - each book somehow leads you to another, and at the end you realise all books are essentially talking about each other.

I think Jorge Luis Borges wrote something about that at some point in his life.

Still Reading:
1. Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies

Completed Titles:
1. Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
2. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
3. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
4. The Claudine Novels by Colette

Friday, December 09, 2005

Rapture By Carol Ann Duffy

Finally got this collection of Carol Ann Duffy's poems, Rapture. Been waiting for two months. *sigh* Better late than never. "You" is the opening poem from this fine collection.


Uninvited, the thought of you stayed too late in my head.
so I went to bed, dreaming you hard, hard, woke with your name,
like tears, soft, salt, on my lips, the sound of its bright syllables
like a charm, like a spell.

Falling in love
is glamorous hell: the crouched, parched heart
like a tiger, ready to kill; a flame’s fierce licks under the skin.
into my life, larger than life, you strolled in.

I hid in my ordinary days, in the long grass of routine,
in my camouflage rooms. You sprawled in my gaze,
staring back from anyone’s face, from the shape of a cloud,
from the pining, earth-struck moon which gapes at me

as I open the bedroom door. The curtains stir. There you are
on the bed, like gift, like a touchable dream.

Monday, December 05, 2005

First Book: Stories to leave you wanting more

By Jeanette Winterson

Taken from The Times

This is the Christmas books issue. Let’s celebrate all the things we love to read, and all the things we read and fall in love with.

Everybody remembers the first book that made a difference to them. Often, that book is still the one we give to our lovers, or wait excitedly to pass on to the kids in our lives.

The shared secret of a book you both adore is like nothing else. Even though thousands of other people have read it, it is still a private world. Certain cities, like Venice, have this quality, but that is because such a city is essentially an invention. And a continual re-invention; the outline is always there, but we make up the meaning as we go along.

This is not to say that the great books we love are wax tablets where we impress our own image. Rather, they have such power of purpose, revealed in form and language that they interpret us much better than we interpret them. That is why a strong text will keep armies of academics in salaries for generations. Most of this secondary work falls and fails as time passes, but the work itself remains. It is always possible to say something new about Shakespeare or Keats or the Brontes or Woolf. It is always possible to write (yet) another book about Venice. The thing is bigger than we are.

It would be wonderful if Christmas were a celebration of all the stories we have read and told, beginning with its own story of a difficult birth in a draughty stable. Most of us rail at the commercialism of Christmas, but we still load up with as much we can carry.

Sometimes it is necessary to pile up books like sandbags against the outside world – please god not another mince pie or singing Santa – a good book is a place to hide behind.

This year I am only giving books as presents. My godchildren, nine and six, are just at the point where I can start discussing favourite books with them, and mapping their meanings onto my own. In this way, we re-draw the territory. The book changes shape, because books are shape-changers. Like Venice, you know exactly what square is over the next bridge, and then suddenly, you realise you have made a mistake – or a discovery. Kids make wonderful readers because they pile into the book like backpackers off the bus. They aren’t sophisticated, and they don’t come with expectations. But they are sharp and alive, and they bring the venerable text back to its beginnings – books are always new, even when they are very old.

I have made a deal with my godchildren this year, that we will all write our own Christmas stories, and read them to each other on Christmas Eve. All children love to hear stories, and to tell them. It is a pity that we soon manage to lobotomise them into believing that the material world of more and more stuff, is of greater value than the world they can imagine and invent, or discover in the imagination and inventions of others. Christmas could be a time to correct this – and books are one way of doing that.

I might encourage them with snippets from a charming edition, just out, of The Hyde Park Gate News – The Stephen Family Newspaper . This is the weekly newspaper complied by Virginia Woolf, (Stephen) and her various brothers and sisters, for the entertainment of themselves and their parents, between 1892 and 1985. It is in manuscript in the British Library, and printed here for the first time.

I admit that I groan when any more Bloomsbury ephemera appears, but this deserves its place, not because scholars need it - but because it is fun. Virginia Stephen was ten, and the sharp wit is already present: ‘On Christmas Day Mrs Stephen and the four children went to the Lyceum. What the pantomime was about it is difficult to say. Santa Claus came down on his sledge from the ceiling. Then he made several moral remarks in a burly tone. Dances followed, then a bit of Babes in the Wood was introduced, and the babes, after dying in the orthodox way, are brought to life again by Santa Claus. The most interesting character was the dog Tatters.’

Scholars may think this leads us towards Miss La Trobe in Between the Acts; I think it’s a delightful way of encouraging kids to write their own Christmas this year.

RENT the Musical

Saw RENT the Musical last Saturday. Was seated at nice Circle seats where I imagined raunchy sexual escapades and intrigue of the kind you see in historical movie. But the Circle seats at the old Kallang Theatre was far from romantic. And a little wore for wear.

Just looking at your ticket, you are reminded that RENT stars Karen Mok. In BIG letters. When the musical opens, WW asks somewhere in the background if that's Karen Mok somewhere on stage.

You get the idea. She ain't the star, even if they're selling her.

Karen Mok plays Mimi, the junkie exotic dancer who's all Bad Girl. Okay, Karen Mok has a nice body and great tresses - but wild-abandon sex kitty she isn't. It was a lukewarm performance really, but it could have been much more.

Later in the evening I bought the CD for the original Broadway performance of RENT (Sucker!) Okay, my favourite tunes in the musical? "Light My Candle" and "Out Tonight" - oddly enough, both Mimi's songs.

Karen Mok just don't do it for me.

Declining Stars

We live in a period of declining stars. Few celebrities these days (aside from the smoldering Angelina Jolie) seem to have complex psychic lives.

~ Camille Paglia

In an age of Orlando Blooms, I so agree.

Friday, December 02, 2005

On Virginia Woolf

"She was night-time and words were the dream."

~ From Art Objects, on Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sterling Truffle Bar

"Sterling Truffle Bars blend the best of white, milk and dark chocolate, fruit, nuts and liqueurs with culinary artistry. Each decadent truffle bar flavor has an extraordinary and colorful hand-painted chocolate design. Available in 12- and 6-ounce sizes, the triangular bars are to be served sliced, exposing beautiful layers of ganache. Perfect as unique and elegant gifts, dessert garnishes or accents to a wine, champagne or cheese tasting, Sterling Truffle Bars are as versatile as they are beautiful and delicious"

Okay, so how did this blog become an advertisement for confectionary? Saw these colourful bars of delight and was so captivated by the swirling colours ("bright colour! pretty!") - had to put it up. Have added the pix of a few of my favourite flavours.

Double Hazelnut Caramel
A striking, hand-painted truffle with contrasting tiers of milk chocolate flavored with rich hazelnut puree, white chocolate infused with caramel, dark chocolate and a hint of ground hazelnut

Cappuccino Liqueur with a Twist
An artfully hand-painted truffle filled with the mingling flavors of milk chocolate, coffee-infused white chocolate, dark chocolate, coffee liqueur and a subtle finish of lemon.

Banana Honey Caramel
A hand-painted truffle with contrasting tiers of milk chocolate flavored with banana liqueurs, white chocolate infused with caramel, dark chocolate and a hint of honey.

More Books Than I Can Read

"The buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity, and this passion is the only thing that raises us
above the beast that perish."

~ Alfred Edward Newton

It's a nice way of justifying it. So let's pretend it's true. This entry is dedicated to all my friends with too many books in their houses unread.

Ian McKellen

Added this picture of SIR Ian McKellen as Gandalf the White. Just in the mood for the Sexiest Man Past the Age of Sixty And Still Alive And Kicking. (He was born in 1939, so go count)

Ian McKellen still has It. Sean Connery also has It. Harrison Ford lost it waaaaay before Calista Flockhart the Stick Insect.

Once saw an episode of Saturday Night Live; McKellen was a guest star and I watched him play it up as Yves Saint-Laurent in all his queenly glory. And later he did a hilarious parody of Dame Maggie Smith - in red dress and pearls to match. He made me laugh so hard. Love a Shakespeare actor that's willing to camp it up.

Can't wait for X-Men 3. Yes, I love this man as Magneto. Patrick Stewart has nothing on McKellen.

HP & the Globet of Fire

Caught Harry Potter and the Globet of Fire last night. It was unsatisfying to put it mildly. In attempting to condense the thick (thick, thick) book into a reasonable length, it was choppy with little engagement. It's like they are so busy trying to tell you the story they don't have time to do the details that charmed audience in the earlier Harry Potter films.

I was looking forward to the entrance of the foreign students. I was expecting something more...spectacular? The book conveyed a sense of - what's the word? - magic to their grand entrance. Alas, not enough show and glam. The visual of the movie for the most part feels heavy and wet.

But liked the dragon though. Especially the bit with the drawing of lots, and they all pick out those tiny little dragons that bites. So cute! ;)

I like the actors casted for the earlier HP films. I know some friends don't, but I do. I like the fact that Emma Watson is button-cute, and I adore Alan Rickman and (Dame!) Maggie Smith. It's so frustrating that the actors have so little to do in this one. I mean, why so little of Alan Rickman? Okay, he was funny when he was thwacking Harry and Ron for talking in the study room. But that's it?!

But the bummer of the movie was Albus Dumbledore. Michael Gambon just falls short of my expectation of Dumbledore. Richard Harris played the first Dumbledore with a whimsical grace. There was good-humour and compassion in the first Dumbledore. You can see why Harry Potter would love him. Michael Gambon's Dumbledore is flaccid. A little lost, in fact, which isn't reassuring because Dumbledore will have a bigger role to play later.

Then my friend asked me last night: "I wonder how Ian McKellan would have played it."

And that's when I knew it: I had wanted Dumbledore to be Gandalf in disguise.

From Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:
[Talking about Every Flavor Beans]
Dumbledore: I was unfortunate enough in my youth to come across a vomit-flavored one, and since then I'm afraid I've rather lost my liking for them. But, I think I could be safe with a nice toffee. [eats it] ...Ah, alas, earwax.
Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort. Ahh...

A quick reminder ... A Room of One's Own

Emily Wilson
Tuesday November 22, 2005
This article is taken from The Guardian

Author: Virginia Woolf
Publisher: Penguin
Date published: 1928

Next time you hear someone explaining that women are incapable of truly great art (be it poetry, literature, painting or music), this is the book to prescribe for them. "Intellectual freedom depends on material things," writes Woolf. "Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for 200 years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog's chance of writing poetry."

To write fiction, Woolf says, a woman "must have money and a room of her own". Woolf tells us that she herself was given the right to vote and £500 a year (from a dead aunt) at about the same time, and that the money felt "infinitely" more important. "No force in the world can take from me my five hundred pounds," she writes. "Food, house, and clothing are mine for ever. Therefore not merely do effort and labour cease, but also hatred and bitterness. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me."

A Room of One's Own is an extraordinary, beautifully written, poetic little book. It's based on two lectures on women and fiction that Woolf gave in Cambridge in 1928, and it's quite unlike the other great feminist polemics - or in fact anything else at all.

Woolf imagines for us, in a novelistic stream of consciousness, two days in which she wanders around "Oxbridge" and the British Museum, and browses through everything ever written about or by women. Why was there no female Shakespeare, she ponders? She imagines what life would have been like for a brilliant sister of Shakespeare - and finds the woman killing herself in her prime. Layer by layer, Woolf constructs her case. "[Woman] pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history," she writes. "She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Woolf: A Room of One's Own

  1. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

Currently on my third book for the 100 Books To Read List. I was supposed to have finished this little book over the weekend. Alas, I was caught up with the drama of Veronica Mars on DVD.

The link between Jeanette Winterson and Virginia Woolf? I went back to Winterson's collection of essays in Art Objects. There are two rapturous essays on Woolf as poet.

Confession: I have never read a Virginia Woolf. This is somewhat shameful, considering I am an English Literature major. But the truth? Her prose is heavy and overwhelms me. It makes me reach out for something lighter.

My copy of Orlando has Tilda Swinton (looking rather dashing) on the cover. It sits on the top shelf, unread for years. I shall attempt to ratify this little oversight.

Titles completed on my reading:

  1. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

  2. The Claudine Novels by Colette


Yes, I cheated. But I figured since The Claudine Novels was technically read and finished middle of 2005, it counts. Anyway, I have Proust's In Search of Lost Time - that counts as six novels by itself.

    Monday, November 28, 2005

    Book Club: Howl's Moving Castle

    25th November 2005, Friday - we have our first bookclub meeting. That was last Friday.

    The book to kick off the Book Club was Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones.

    In the earlier stages of the email discussions, I recall throwing the title in as a possibility. It was brought up verbally as a potential book to read, but not my choice. I simply put it in writing. Yet somehow in the haze of it all, people have come to assume it was my pick. D'uh.

    Did I mention I failed to read the book? It was sold out when I went looking for it. And I just never made the effort to check if it came back in stock.

    So the day came, and I thought I'd just skip the book club. Then I recalled sending out the invitation earlier to some friends who expressed interest. It occurred to me that my friends might not know the other Book Club members. Since Ms F is going to be late, I thought I ought to be there. As a familiar face at least.

    Well, I did show up eventually, albeit sorely sleep-deprived. Decided to swing it without having read the book, relying on having watched the Miyazaki anime as a guide. I listened and it was fun. WW and JN are fun readers. Good people to have in Book Clubs.

    It was an evening of light discussion, with occasion laughs. And dubious revelation of one of my ex-classmate having had a crush on Noddy in her primary school days.

    Group dynamics is always important in social gatherings. I think the bomb arrived in the evening when YSY came in late.

    Turns out JN knows YSY.

    I recall "Saving Face," with that quote: "One billion Chinese people, two degrees of separation."

    I don't hate YSY. I reserve my hatred for people who have actually acted maliciously towards me - with intent. Like Purple Cow. But YSY unnerves me with the vibes she gives out. It's not just the bitterness in her comments from time to time. There is a rancour within her. It's like some deep-seated resentment that festered into something scary.

    It isn't about like or dislike with YSY. It's about being unsettled. YSY's vibes makes me want to avoid her. And I usually do.

    Anyway, the next Book Club meeting may be better. Or worse. But Note To Self: Pump up on Caffeine before attendance.

    And maybe read the book. ;p

    Poetry is a cure, not a painkiller. It should be subsidised by the NHS

    By Jeanette Winterson
    November 19, 2005

    Taken From Times Online

    I GO TO POETRY THE WAY THAT SOME people grab an espresso; for an energy shot, a hit of warmth, and to clear my head.

    I never go out without a poem — usually in my pocket, always in my head — and I try to learn some poetry every week. This is as good as a crossword puzzle for mental agility and, in times of stress, it is better to be thinking “Though much is taken, much abides”, than “Sneeze catcher (12 letters)”, although I think that the Sneeze Catcher might figure in my next book for kids.

    We are in a good time for poetry. Strangely, the soundbite and snapshot culture has worked in poetry’s favour. People like something short and vivid. Poetry readings are a big success, partly because poets tend to be better performers than novelists, but also because listening to a series of shorter poems read a loud allows the mind to concentrate, while refreshing it through the change of theme, tone and rhythm. Above all, the mind is not fixed on following the plot, which is a left-brain activity. A poem activates the right-brain, and just allowing the brain to change hands as it were provides relief for a time.

    Almost everything we do is left-brain work. Poetry should be subsidised by the National Health Service on the grounds that it is one of the few things in our mad world that offers a counterbalance. One-sided people need help — poetry, like music, is the help that we need.

    On my website I feature a Poem of the Month — whatever it is that I fancy — and this is the most visited and revisited spot. I had an e-mail from an oncologist last week. He tells me that while he is sitting late at night in the hospital waiting for test results he often looks at the poems on my site and that they seem like friends to him in the long low hours.

    The comfort of poetry is real, but poetry is not a painkiller; it is a cure. Where there is no cure, poetry helps us to live with the problem. Poems don’t hide things, they reveal things about ourselves, they “put into words things difficult to think” (Dante), and this difficult thinking won’t mask the trouble for a while, like an aspirin for a headache, but it will work to bring out the grief, the pain, the confusion, the mixed feelings, the anger, the impotence.

    We talk about being “lost for words”, about “having nothing to say”, but the poem finds the words, and has something to say, which is why poetry is worth our time.

    Making time for poetry is making time for a different rhythm and a different understanding. Now that we are obsessed with factoids, docudrama, reality TV, confessionals, live footage, 24-hour rolling news, we are forgetting that truth often lies elsewhere too — in what we can imagine, in what we can invent.

    The wonderful Irish poet Eavan Boland has just issued her New Collected Poems (Carcanet). There is a striking reminder of what poetry is and does in First Year (2001) “. . . I am writing this/ not to recall our lives/ but to imagine them”.

    Poetry always bears witness, but it is witness of a different kind to the front page of The Times. Only by imagining our lives can we fully understand them or remake them. Recording them is not enough. This is not to say that we have no need of history or politics or daily news — of course we do, and poetry that is made separate from life is not poetry at all. But the poet speaks differently to the historian or the politician or the journalist. The poem itself has other work to do. In a world drowning in useless information, poetry returns us to what is meaningful. The poem acts as a pocket of air in an upturned boat.

    To the bean counters and economic gurus, a poem looks like the most useless thing on earth. It is not a money machine; you can’t sell it to Hollywood or use it for product placement. You can’t say long it will take to make or how long it will last (how maddening in an economy that depends on throwaways, that a poem can last for ever).

    The poem, by its very nature, questions the dominant values of our world. As William Carlos Williams put it, “it is hard to get the news from poems/ but men die miserably every day/ for lack of what is found there”.

    Saturday, November 26, 2005


    As mentioned earlier, I'm in the middle of Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I've decided to re-read the book because I've recently purchased an Out of Print Bloomsbury Classics edition of the title. (Cover by the side) This means I now possess three different editions of the title.

    It's a nice pocket-sized hardcover with good paper. It feels like a pocket-sized bible in my hands, which amuses me. And yes, it'll look good on my shelf; if there's any space for it; which there isn't.

    (If you noticed, there were two semicolons in the previous sentence. I'm rediscovering the semicolon, so they might pop-up more frequently.)

    My favourite part in the book is still the bit about the mother's liberal re-telling of Jane Eyre. In Mother's version, Jane Eyre goes away with the pious St John Rivers. That has always been taken as the gospel truth, until one day the young protagonist, being old enough to read, decided to pick up Jane Eyre for herself. She felt similar emotions the day she found her adoption papers by accident.

    The revelations of childhood.

    As children we take many things for granted. And these constants we take into our adulthood and they shape our identity, our character. Then one day the scales fall from our eyes and the world shifts just that little bit. Nothing really changed. The only real difference is: Now you know.

    What you do with the truth is your choice. How you choose is that which truly defines you.

    It is the nature of stone to covert bone.
    At one time or another there will be a choice: you or the wall.
    Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall.
    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
    The City of Lost Chances is full of those who chose the wall.
    All the king's horses and all the king's men.
    Couldn't put Humpty together again.
    Then is it necessary to wander unprotected through the land?
    It is necessary to distinguish the chalk circle from the stone wall.
    Is it necessary to live without a home?
    It is necessary to distinguish physics from metaphysics.
    Yet many of the principles are the same.
    They are, but in the cities of the interior all things are changed.
    A wall for the body, a circle for the soul.

    ~ from Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

    Wednesday, November 23, 2005

    100 Books To Read

    Have picked out the 100 books I'm going to read before the end of 2006. Some are books I've always been meaning to read, but never found the time. Others, an excuse for me to re-read them. Then, there are the classics that I should read, but alas...

    All here, the 100 shortlist, and I've revised it too many times over. The many omission is of course due to space constraints. And I will cheat somewhere down the road by altering the list a little.

    But meanwhile, I've started on Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit last night (it's down there at #54). Decided to give it a good headstart. And no, it's not my favourite Winterson title. It's also not the Winterson title that I re-read most frequently. My personal favourite Winterson title is The Passion.

    1. In Search of Lost Time Marcel Proust
    2. War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
    3. Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
    4. The Idiot Fyodor Dostoevsky
    5. The Gambler Fyodor Dostoevsky
    6. Don Quixote Miguel De Cervantes
    7. Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    8. One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    9. Flaubert's Parrot Julian Barnes
    10. Steppenwolf Herman Hesse
    11. Moby Dick Herman Melville
    12. The Pure and the Impure Colette
    13. The Claudine Novels Colette
    14. Norweigian Woods Haruki Murakami
    15. Marioka Sisters Junichiro Tanizaki
    16. Tale of Genji
    17. To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee
    18. Death In Venice Thomas Mann
    19. Nightwood Djuna Barnes
    20. Perfume Patrick Suskind
    21. The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison
    22. The Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole
    23. The House of Mirth Edith Wharton
    24. The Iliad Homer
    25. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
    26. Gilgamesh trans. Stephen Mitchell
    27. The Immoralist Andre Gide
    28. Fruits of the Earth Andre Gide
    29. The Wings of the Dove Henry James
    30. The Moonstone Wilkie Collins
    31. Great Expectations Charles Dickens
    32. Dracula Bram Stoker
    33. The Deptford Trilogy Robertson Davis
    34. The Quiet American Graham Greene
    35. Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov
    36. Of Human Bondage W. Somerset Maugham
    37. Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
    38. Middlemarch George Eliot
    39. A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry
    40. Villette Charlotte Bronte
    41. Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie
    42. Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway
    43. The New York Trilogy Paul Auster
    44. Memoirs of Hadrian Marguerite Yourcenar
    45. The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas
    46. Complete Father Brown G. K. Chesterton
    47. The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood
    48. Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
    49. Giovanni's Room James Baldwin
    50. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
    51. The House of the Seven Gables Nathaniel Hawthorne
    52. Blindness Jose Saramago
    53. Hunger Knut Hamsun
    54. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Jeanette Winterson
    55. Sexing the Cherry Jeanette Winterson
    56. Orlando Virginia Woolf
    57. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Ken Kesey
    58. Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
    59. Les Liaisons Dangereuses Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
    60. The Colour Purple Alice Walker
    61. The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad
    62. Magus John Fowles
    63. Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera
    64. The Four Quartets T. S. Eliot
    65. Fall on Your Knees Ann-Marie MacDonald
    66. Gitanjali Rabindranath Tagore
    67. The Conference of the Birds Farid Ud-Din Attar
    68. The Prophet Khalil Ghibran
    69. Maximum City Suketu Mehta
    70. The Snow Leopard Peter Matthiessen
    71. Guns, Germs and Steel Jared Diamond
    72. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes Amin Maalouf
    73. Yogasutra of Patanjali
    74. Ways of Seeing John Berger
    75. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard
    76. The Qu'ran
    77. Art of War Sun Tzu
    78. Book of Five Rings Miyamoto Musashi
    79. Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair Pablo Neruda
    80. Hagakure
    81. Seven Storey Mountain Thomas Merton
    82. Stiff Mary Roach
    83. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee Dee Brown
    84. Meditations Marcus Aurelius
    85. A History of God Karen Armstrong
    86. A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway
    87. Diet For A Small Planet Frances Moore Lappe
    88. Dark Night of the Soul John of the Cross
    89. Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus
    90. The Places that Scares You Pema Chodron
    91. In Praise of Folly Erasmus
    92. Beyond Belief Elaine Pagels
    93. The Histories Herodotus
    94. Bhagavad Gita
    95. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth Mohandas Gandhi
    96. Confessions Saint Augustine
    97. Saint Francis of Assisi G. K. Chesterton
    98. The Varieties of Religious Experience William James
    99. A Room of One's Own Virginia Woolf
    100. Dhammapada

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    To Know

    Guess this blog is really just an excuse for an online journal. So many things will be out of context. Should I bother explaining the circumstances behind each blog? Maybe not. Not everything is meant to be understood, especially since we never truly have all the facts. The human insistence on understanding sometimes lead us to impose meanings where there is none.

    Or maybe this is just an excuse for me to remain non-engaged with the world.

    DVD and the Drama of My Former Life

    I spent my weekends watching DVDs. Managed to finish all 13 episodes of "Wonderfalls" and went on to the second season of "The L-Word." For the record, I think "The L-Word" is losing direction. They are adding new characters that I don't care about and doing things to well-loved characters that I don't want to watch.

    I made it past 3 episodes of "The L-Word" before I called it a night. For the uninformed, last season, Bette (played by the divine Jennifer Beals) was caught cheating on Tina, her partner of 7 years. So Season 2 opens with Bette, formerly the golden girl of the pack, suddenly relegated to social pariah.

    Bette was the alpha of the "L-Word" pack: ravishingly, well-groomed, charming, confident with a core of genuine warmth to her. It was hard to watch a character so well put together disintegrate on-screen. I watched Bette trying to apologize for her mistake, but somehow it just wasn't enough. Other aspects of her life, work and personal also edge towards collapse. It's as if anything Bette touches is tainted.

    The true charm of "The L-Word" was its focus on the close-knitted friendship between the characters. It is therefore almost cruel when the friends begin to quietly side with Tina, the wronged party - isolating Bette by default. As Bette later declares in a drunken stupor, "If I met myself, I'll run the other way."Bette's loneliness and self-loathing cuts through. This is a woman awashed with remorse, desperate for forgiveness.

    The producers are evidently going to milk the melodrama for all it's worth. So it's going to be a fair bit of painful viewing until we get to the reconciliation. *Argh*

    I find it ironic that my appetite for TV drama is inversely related to the trauma of my own personal life. Perhaps I often sublimate my own emotional drama into these TV soap-series that I watch. Maybe without the prozac-effect of these TV dramas, I may actually be at risk of acting out real-life passion plays - with their real-life consequences. However, last night's 3 episodes of melodramatic overdose came too close to home. It reminded me too vividly of a more dramatic time and place a few years back. I thought I was over it. Apparently not.

    Monday, November 07, 2005

    If We Want To Stop People Being Rude We Could Use a Bit of Horse Sense

    Taken from The Times

    By Jeanette Winterson

    AS A TRAVELLING WRITER — WHICH is a cross between a fortune teller and a brush salesman — I meet more people than most. They ask me about their marriages, confide in me their fears, invite me back for coffee, show me their manuscripts, speculate about the state of the world and sometimes, when I am not adequately fulfilling either my exotic or my practical purpose, they are rude to me.

    Writers are used to a certain class of people being rude about them; those people are called critics, and in the name of free speech you can say what you like, as long as the writer is not in the room. If the writer suddenly appears in the room — especially if they have done so by first banging on the front door, as I once did to poor old Nicci Gerrard, then you can expect a Vesuvius of a press row about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour.

    Being rude about someone, in whatever context, is quite different from being rude to someone. As a northerner, my refugee status in the South is never more apparent than in my plain speaking, which has got me into trouble plenty of times.

    Nevertheless, I believe in good manners, and practise them up to the point where they become downright lies. “How lovely to see you,” should never conceal: “God, I detest that woman.” “I’m a big fan of your writing,” should never be a self-preservation attempt when the person whose work you have slagged off for 20 years is suddenly standing in front of you with a meat axe.

    I daresay that both A. A. Gill and Lynne Truss have had a few meat axes waved at them in their time, and A. A. Gill has never seemed over-particular to me about his use of any offensive weapon, so long as it is deployed from the safe distance of a newspaper column. Both have now published books about rudeness and rage. In Britain, we got no manners, see? And we hate each other, not just in the post office queue, but everywhere and all the time.

    Truss’s Talk to the Hand and Gill’s The Angry Island are both entertaining, as you would expect, but bafflingly naive. The glaring gap is, of course, the media itself, and journalists themselves. Truss will take on advertising but not her own kind, and Gill just doesn’t understand why being A. A. Gill means that you can’t moan about people being rude to you.

    Journalists have bred a culture of saying anything about anybody and getting away with it. This translates to readers as saying anything to anybody and getting away with it.

    Rudeness is a million different ways of saying the same thing: “I don’t respect you.” In the name of truth, the media is no respecter of persons and quite right too, but what about in the name of sex, money, sales, scandal and all the grubby excuses that the media makes to probe and expose and ridicule? I have just been reading Monty (“The Man Who Listens To Horses”) Roberts, on Horse Sense for People. It is obvious stuff — you get what you give. If a horse doesn’t respect you, you can force it to behave by beating it or you yourself can behave differently so that the horse responds differently.

    When Roberts is asked to come in and talk to big companies, he emphasises that their whole corporate culture has to change if they want to root out their problems of skiving, slacking and stealing.

    He believes that most people are externally, not internally, motivated, and that most people will follow what’s happening around them. Humans, like horses, are herd animals, highly susceptible and used to acting in groups.

    I love art and books precisely because they work on the individual and not the group, but I know that the group or the mass is hugely influenced by print and visual media — both what is said, and just as importantly, how it is said. The media has decided that everything is fair game, nothing is sacred, no-one is to be trusted, gossip is good, celebrity sucks (but it sells), politics is corrupt, art is a luxury item, (unlike the must-have Vuitton handbag), everyone, everywhere, is in it only for themselves.

    And then we get the “Why, oh why” hand-wringing columns about the state of Britain. Excuse me? As Monty would say, “there can be no positive consequences for negative actions”.

    Obvious stuff, but Horse Sense might be good on the bedside tables of a few media types who wonder why nobody is smiling at them on the Tube.

    Friday, November 04, 2005

    Back After a Break

    Back at work after a one week break, out of which three days were spent at Phuket with ladies with aspirations to tai-tai-hood. At least, they are more tai-tais than I'll ever be.

    I usually lull myself into a state of mental withdrawal on my holidays. I like my holidays to be low activity affairs, some kind of mental/spiritual escape. Ms F remarked on the absurdity of spending money on airfare to "do nothing" - her assertion being you can "do nothing" for free right at home.

    Right, but that's the point - I don't get to "do nothing" at home. Everyday work-life wears me down with the petty politics. Family life drains me with the usual emotional blackmail and other melodrama. So, on trips overseas, I want to just do nothing. Leave me alone, give me the psychic space tantamount to breathing space that I desperately need. I don't want to think. At. All. No shopping, no TV. Preferably surrounded by nature, beach or greenery.


    Now back at work after the one week break, all I want is to take another break. Something very attractive right now about just quitting my job and taking a very long break. But alas, the girl has to eat.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2005


    "I respect tradition, though I'm quite prepared to vandalise it."

    ~ Jeanette Winterson

    But of course ;p

    Tuesday, October 25, 2005

    Saving Face

    Saw "Flightplan" and "Saving Face" last Sunday. In spite of the iconic status Jodie Foster represents for me, I have to admit I was more charmed by director Alice Wu’s more lightweight movie. SPOILERS AHEAD

    Saving Face
    Saving Face
    Directed by Alice Wu

    Joan Chen, Michelle Krusiec and (the lovely, lovely!) Lynn Chen

    "Saving Face" is a simple fare done very well. It is a rare bilingual movie where almost all the Chinese actors speak fluent Mandarian Chinese – and is better for it all. It smoothes over the awkward Mandarin of the two lead actresses Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen. In fact, it works to position them outside their Chinese-American community linguistically (and by implication, sexually). The mother-daughter relationship between Ma and Wil works with Ma speaking only Chinese while Wil responds mainly in English. The dynamics of the relationship is so effectively communicated by language.

    The story goes like this: Wilhelmina Pang (Michelle Krusiec) is a capable Chinese-American surgical resident living in Flushing, New York. (Her boss predicts she will make Chief of Staff by the time she’s 40.) Her work keeps her busy, so her widow Ma (Joan Chen) keeps trying to fix her up with eligible young Chinese men every week at the Chinese social dances. Wil goes along with it, albeit with great reluctance. Not just because of the lameness of your mother trying to fix you up, but also because Wil is a closeted lesbian. (At least closeted from her Chinese community. Everyone else seems to know) Wil’s the kind that wears men’s shirts with sensible shoes, which Ma disapproves. But Grandma is cool here, as Grandma remarks, "Just like the pair I wore during the Cultural Revolution." "Very practical and durable," she adds. Anyone who ever had your mother complaining about your dress sense will warm to Grandma immediately. (Although on a later thought: how flattering is it to have fashion sense that dates back to the Cultural Revolution?)

    As Wil braces herself for another torturous night at the social dance, she meets Vivian (Lynn Chen), a dancer with the New York City Ballet. It was mutual attraction for both. They meet again later at the hospital where Wil works. It turns out that Vivian is the daughter of Wil’s boss. Ah. Coincidence.

    The romance between the two young women is handled with a lightness that renders their attraction believable. Michelle Krusiec shuffles around with a shy self-consciousness that’s oddly endearing. Her eyes are often hapless at the unfolding of the drama around her, like some helpless hamster. You are drawn to Wil’s gentle vunerability just as Vivian was. And Lynn Chen is the stronger of the pair, with her pretty babydoll features, and the unmistakeable mischief just gleaming out of the corners of her eyes and fluttering around her playful smiles. She’s the kind of girl that catches your eyes in a crowded room. (Okay, she’s the kind of girl that catches my eyes in a crowded room.) Lynn Chen plays Vivian with a self-assured charm, first smiling sweetly across the dance hall at the pretty little surgeon with the ponytail, later making a pass at Wil at the candy machine. She totally disorientates the young doctor.

    As the young lovers slowly sidestep their way towards one another, a tango plays on the soundtrack and Wil returns home one night to find Ma at the steps outside her apartment. Turns out Ma is pregnant, and refuses to name the father. Grandpa found out about Ma’s condition from one of his old student. Now everyone knows.

    "One billion Chinese. Two degrees of separation," Wil mutters as she’s packing Ma’s stuff.

    So Grandpa threw Ma out – unless she gets married (apparently it doesn’t have to be the baby’s father) or "proves immaculate conception."

    The chaos of juggling your pregnant mother and a new lesbian romance just gets too much, and Wil resorted to trying to find Ma a husband. In the midst of trying to get Ma ready for her first date, there was a touching moment when Wil observed her mother up close. She stares, as though seeing Ma for the first time. Ma, a bundle of insecurities, asks if there was anything wrong with her face.

    "You’re beautiful," she tells Ma. And yes, Joan Chen is beautiful in this movie.

    All her other films have never prepared me for this comedic side of her. Joan Chen’s Gao Hwei-Lan is funny because she is entirely believable as the character she plays. You laugh because it’s so touchingly familiar. Even as she’s s/mothering Wil, she’s also a sheltered child experiencing freedom for the first time in 48 years. In one scene she wanders into a video store asking for Chinese videos. As she scans the shelves, we glimpse the titles "The Last Emperor" and "Joy Luck Club." It’s the kind of in-joke that brings a smile to your face. Later, she meandered onto the shelves for porn videos – and we see only her eyes from above the video rack. The eyes spoke eloquently of the innocence of this grown woman who’s fascinated by the forbidden.

    When Ma finally reveals the father of her baby, it wasn’t really much of a surprise. Wil asks her, "Why did you put us through all these?" Ma replies that she has never dated in her life, and she just wanted to feel how it’s like to get out. And most importantly, she needed the father (of her unborn baby) to declare his feelings for her in front of everyone. She needed him to be sure of his feelings for her. While there’s something of a petulant child in this, what she yearns for is so achingly human. She wants her love to be stronger than fear. Straight, gay, old and young, we want our love to declare itself in front of the world.

    Wil couldn’t learn this from Ma soon enough, because Vivian, tired of waiting for Wil all the time, signs up for a 4 years stint with the Paris Opera Ballet. At the airport, Wil pleads with her girlfriend to stay. And Vivian asks this of her: "Kiss me in front of everyone here." Wil couldn’t. And she loses the girl she loves.

    The movie poster has Joan Chen and Michelle Krusiec seated a little apart from the other. I found the image odd at first. I wondered why Lynn Chen was not included in the poster. After the movie I realised I was misled by my expectation of what "Saving Face" was about. It wasn’t a just a lesbian romantic comedy as I had presumed. I fell in love with "Saving Face" because the heart of the story is Ma and Wil – it is definitely a love story – between a mother and a daughter.

    After the movie I visited the website for "Saving Face" and came across Alice Wu’s "Director’s Notes":

    "I wrote SAVING FACE as a love-letter to my mother. The character of Ma begins the movie as a woman with all major decisions in life seemingly made; at 48, she has lived a proper life and is now essentially just living to die. That she ultimately breaks with tradition and lives on her own terms is a triumph I wanted my mother – and the world – to see. I suppose if there is one thing I am trying to say with the film, it is that no matter who you are – Asian or black, gay or straight, young or old – that everyone basically wants to love – and that love can start at any point in your life that you want it to. I made SAVING FACE because I wanted my mother to know that it was never too late to fall in love for the first time. And that it is not by doing things right, but by sometimes getting them wrong, that we launch the journey that allows us to come into our own."

    It's the kind of thing that makes you smile when you read it. "Saving Face" is Alice Wu's first film. It isn't a great arthouse movie, but it's a lovely, personal film. Chekhov identified compassion as one of the six characteristic vital to good writing. I think Alice Wu got it pat down.

    Some background on director Alice Wu: She graduated from Stanford University with Bachelor and Masters degrees in Computer Science. She was a software designer with Microsoft until the day her script for "Saving Face" won an award.

    In the film, Vivian is a talented ballet dancer. But despite the disapproval from her father, she has been venturing into modern dance , simply because, "it is more ... expressive."


    Friday, October 21, 2005

    People Doing Odd Things

    I'm trying to get a more focused grip on my readings, so I'm in the process of drawing out my 100 Reading List. Will I be able to finish all 100 titles in the Year of Our Lord 2006? Probably not. But it's fun trying! ;p

    "Why do it?" you may ask.

    Because it's fun.

    A brief anecdote:

    I dislike popcorns in general. I find that they have the texture of styrofoam when you bite into them, and the salted ones are usually too salty, and the sweet ones are usually sticky and cloyingly sweet. And the butter - if the popcorn's not fresh, the butter usually have that rancid smell that clings to your clothes and hair.

    Don't like popcorn.

    Once, out with Ms F for a movie, I mentioned the "popcorn has the texture of styrofoam" observation. Ms F piped: "Yeah, like you've tasted styrofoam." Or something along that sentiment.

    Actually I have. When I was a wee thing, I had some styrofoam around the house to play with. It was nice. Lots of things you can do to styrofoam. Then one day I wondered how it will taste. So I bit into it to check out the texture. What can I say? It crunch like popcorn without the butter, salt and caramel syrup.

    No, I do not swallow.

    "Why do it?" you may ask.

    Because it's fun to find out things like these.

    Anyway, recently I'm taken with this writer, Mary Roach. She strikes me as someone with the curiosity in the unusual things in life. Her previous book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers made it to the bestsellers. I've perused it briefly, and she's an illuminating sprite amongst the chaos of dull books out there.

    The book apparently first began with the article she wrote on how much a human stomach could hold before it burst. It was a Thanksgiving thing and with all the feasting I guess the question just popped into her head.

    She is fun person. ;)

    Wednesday, October 19, 2005

    Ba Jin dies aged 100

    Jonathan Watts in Beijing
    Tuesday October 18, 2005

    From The Guardian

    Ba Jin, the Chinese anarchist intellectual who became one of the 20th century's great authors, died yesterday in Shanghai, aged 100.

    From the 1931 publication of his most celebrated work, Family, the story of a disintegrating feudal household, Ba Jin rose to prominence as a critic of the injustice of the pre-revolutionary era. Although associated most with the turbulent period of 1930 to 1950, he remained a leading force.

    He had Parkinson's disease and cancer.

    You know? I thought he was dead a long time ago. How many people out there are still alive?

    Monday, October 17, 2005

    (Possible) Planet Xena Has Moon Named "Gabrielle"

    I kid you not.

    I Have Many Skills WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Xena, the possible 10th planet in our solar system, has its own moon, a dim little satellite called Gabrielle, its discoverers reported.

    Astronomers who reported Xena's discovery in July said they detected Xena's sidekick on September 10 using the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Their findings will be submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters on Monday.

    "Since the day we discovered Xena, the big question has been whether or not it has a moon," Michael Brown, of the California Institute of Technology, said in a statement. "Having a moon is just inherently cool -- and it is something that most self-respecting planets have, so it is good to see that this one does too."

    Xena, known formally as 2003 UB313 but nicknamed for the warrior princess of television fame, and Gabrielle orbit the sun out beyond Pluto in a band known as the Kuiper Belt, a swath that is home to comets, asteroids and other space rocks.

    The possible 10th planet moves in a highly eccentric orbit, tilted some 45 degrees above the orbital plane of the other planets. Its orbit is also elliptical, zooming in as close as 3.5 billion miles (5.6 billion km) from the sun and moving out to as far as 9 billion miles (14.5 billion km) away.

    Earth orbits rather consistently at 93 million miles (150 million km) from the sun.
    It takes Xena 560 Earth years to complete one trip around the Sun, compared to Pluto's 250 years.

    Xena is one of three big planet-like bodies recently found in this region. The others have equally playful nicknames: Santa and Easterbunny.


    I Am Unlikeable

    Size is important when it comes to making the grade as a planet. Astronomers know that Xena is bigger than Pluto but since they don't know what it is made of, they can't be sure that it is more massive. The discovery of the moon Gabrielle means Xena has at least enough mass to keep a satellite.

    Gabrielle is estimated to orbit close to Xena, making a circuit perhaps every 14 days. Named for the TV princess's travelling companion, Gabrielle is about 60 times fainter than Xena.

    The International Astronomical Union, which makes the decision on what is a planet, considers Xena a trans-Neptunian object, meaning its orbit crosses that of Neptune, just as Pluto's does. Many astronomers, including Brown, question Pluto's planetary status, too.

    But Xena's discovery, and its size, have prompted the union to rethink the definition of planet.
    On the union's Web site, it said: "The very rapid pace of discovery of bodies within the solar system over the last decade, and so our understanding of the Trans-Neptunian Region is therefore still evolving very rapidly. This is in serious contrast to the situation when Pluto was discovered."

    A working group of the union is considering a new definition. Until the group finishes its work, the Web site statement said, all objects discovered at a distance of 40 times Earth's distance from the sun, "will continue to be regarded as part of the Trans-Neptunian population."

    More information and images are available at

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    Copy Protection Part II

    October 20, 2005 Issue of Rolling Stones

    A follow-up on my entry on the copy protection on KT Tunstall's CD.

    This issue of Rolling Stones reports fans of Dave Matthews Band, Foo Fighters and Switchfoot are mighty pissed by similar Copy Protection software rigged into their CDs.

    Currently, it's mainly labels like Sony BMG and EMI that's adding the copy protection software into their CDs. It's not yet know how this affects CDs sales, from pissed off fans - like myself who are refusing to pick up a copy protection CD in protest. Apparently freewares are offered online to decode the copy protection. And Sony BMG will actually email detailed instructions on how to use the decoding software if you ask.

    Still - why make fans of the musicians go through these extra hoops? Why punish the fans?

    Labels will work to keep their profits, naturally. But this measure really only serve to alienate the very people who bothers to buy an original CD - because someone used to downloading the mp3 files illegally isn't going to be really affected by the copy protection CDs. Simply because he or she isn't going to buy one.

    Sale of CDs really goes to the profit margins of record companies, not the artistes. Yes, I know that - but really, do I care if the singer/musician I like can't afford an expensive Ferrari?

    What matters to me is that record companies are only willing to sign musicians who can sell CDs for them. A talented musician who can't sell his/her first CD will probably not have a second one. Now, that matters to me.

    My favourite example here is Joss Whedon's Serenity. The TV series died a premature and unnecessary death because the TV network didn't know what to do with it. But it was the overwhelming DVD sales that finally pushed convinced the powers that be a Serenity movie was worth the investment.

    I don't care if Joss Whedon don't get rich from the Serenity franchise. Good for him if he is. But I am looking forward to the movie.

    And yes, I am one of the many who bought the original DVD boxset for Serenity.

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    Poetry: Tea

    by Carol Ann Duffy

    I like pouring your tea, lifting
    the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
    so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

    Or when you’re away, or at work,
    I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
    as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

    I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
    and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
    for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

    Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
    I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
    but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

    as the women harvest the slopes
    for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
    and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.

    [Carol Ann Duffy is one of my favourite poet. I discovered her one day while flipping through Gary Geddes' anthology of 20th Century poems. The miracle of finding gems in your textbook!

    I fell in love with the simplicity and the clarity of her words. Imagine my surprise when I found out Jeanette Winterson is also one of her admirers.

    All paths lead to the centre.

    Right now I'm craving for a cuppa hot English tea]

    Life, Friends & Acquaintance

    "Things have dropped from me. I have outlived certain desires; I have lost friends, some by death... others through sheer inability to cross the street. "

    ~ Virginia Woolf

    Met up with some old university mates last Saturday. We were never close. Acquaintance really, but occasionally it's nice to meet up, find out how everyone's doing.

    The humdrums of social life, I suppose. But all friendship first starts with a "hi." In some way it may have been my fault that we never kept in touch before. I've never been overtly social. (Oddly, for all of Brat's claims to Un-Social Butterflyhood, she managed to keep in touch with old acquaintance better than myself. Maybe her Blur-F**K face is deceptively endearing. )

    Anyway, back to my uni-classmates: These are people who do not know about this blog. And I would prefer to keep it this way. There's a lot I do not wish to share with them. And I'm suspicious of the "friendliness" of one or two of these ladies.

    But there was a brief moment when Ms F spoke too fast and mentioned the existence of this blog. *Sigh*

    But thank goodness - they are not interested enough in me to find out the address of this blog. Or rather I brushed it off later when the subject returned.

    I did not speak much among them, people whom I'm not too familiar with. As usual. They all seem to have progressed in their lives. Got married, getting married, advanced in careers etc. When the question came round to yours truly, I merely replied:

    "Life has been peaceful and quiet for me."

    That, is as much as I will volunteer about my life since graduation. Yes, it has been peaceful for quite some time. I get the occasional conflict at work: office politics, disagreement with bosses - but these are part of life. And I deal with them as they come.

    (As much as Ms F like to disagree about the state of my life - things HAVE been peaceful for a very long time. I think it's about time Ms F stop reminding me of the drama of the past and actually acknowledge that my current lifestyle is nice and quiet. And it's staying this way for a while longer.)

    Maybe my ex-classmates will take me to be a boring person. But boring is under-rated, in my opinion.