Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why do New Yorkers Seem Rude?

From the Smithsonian magazine, Joan Acocella's essay on Why do New Yorkers seem rude?

Psychologists tell us that the more stimuli people are bombarded with, the more they will recede into themselves and ignore others. So why is it that New Yorkers, who are certainly confronted with enough stimuli, do the opposite? I have already given a few possible answers, but here's one more: the special difficulties of life in New York—the small apartments, the struggle for a seat on the bus or a table at a restaurant—seem to breed a sense of common cause. When New Yorkers see a stranger, they don't think, "I don't know you." They think, "I know you. I know your problems—they're the same as mine—and furthermore we have the same handbag." So that's how they treat you.

This belief in a shared plight may underlie the remarkable level of cooperation that New Yorkers can show in times of trouble. Every few years or so, we have a water shortage, and then the mayor goes on the radio and tells us that we can't leave the water running in the sink while we're brushing our teeth. Surprise! People obey, and the water table goes up again. The more serious the problem, the more dramatic the displays of cooperation. I will not speak of the World Trade Center disaster, because it is too large a subject, but the last time we had a citywide power failure, and hence no traffic lights, I saw men in business suits—they looked like lawyers—directing traffic at busy intersections on Ninth Avenue. They got to be traffic cops for a day and tell the big trucks when to stop and when to go. They looked utterly delighted.

New York seems like a good place to be.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Hamster Love

"Hi. Just dropping in to tell you I love you."

'Free Tibet' flags made in China

From BBC News:

Police in southern China have discovered a factory manufacturing Free Tibet flags, media reports say.

The factory in Guangdong had been completing overseas orders for the flag of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Workers said they thought they were just making colourful flags and did not realise their meaning

Which goes to show, everything is made in China these days.

Is this all there is?

A reminder of what is important about the practice, and what is not:

“Ultimately, whether we achieve the final posture or not is insignificant. Those who do not believe this may be quite disillusioned to discover that nothing particularly remarkable or even pleasant happens when you finally put your feet on the back of your head. If our practice has been driven by hopes of radiant delight in that final moment, we may find ourselves asking, ‘Is this all there is?’ when we achieve our so-called goal. The delight, the remarkable moment, was happening all along, but we were too busy getting somewhere to notice.”

~ Donna Farhi [Thanks to Laura for the quote]

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lamentation on a Stain

This blood price for womanhood can sometimes be too much to bear.

Why is it asked of us, the gentle sex, to bleed every month and yet not die?

Too much information, yes. But on the upside, the womanly parts are still working after surgery. So that's good news.

I still have this to look forward to every month until menopause.

O! Profoundest joy!

*Dance in a tutu*

At the Edge of My Sanity

Why do homophobics feel so at ease sharing their tirades with me? I will never agree with what they have to say, and I am not even remotely interested. Yet, at several points in my life, people would suddenly feel the need to share how much they dislike homosexuals and why. Their spew of prejudice doesn't require any encouragement. It just goes on and on.

It's not just homophobes. Since I chose to be vegetarian, I have attended 5 weddings. At 2 of them, I was reprimanded for being "troublesome" and "overly religious." On both occasions, my vegetarian meals were served ala carte, so it did not disrupt the menu for the other guests. Yet, people feel the need -- and the moral justification -- to bombard me with their objections to what is different.

Why? Most importantly, is there a polite way of telling these people to shove off? One of my ex-classmates is an argumentative lawyer who also happens to be a loud-mouthed homophobe. He had expressed many times that he believes homosexuals should be strung up and whipped. I really hate it when he talks like that. In fact, right now I wish he would be strung up and whipped for saying things like these.

Not exactly very progressive and tolerant of me.

I feel like shouting at people these past few days. It has been about a month since I last practiced yoga, and I think the lack of practice is starting to tear at the edges of my sanity. I gave myself exactly one month of rest after the surgery. So, 3rd of May, please come soon. Otherwise I might not have any friends left.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dancing to the Pixies's Where Is My Mind

Serene sent me the link for this:

This is too funny. I can never watch ballet with a straight face anymore.

"endowed with the capacity for choice"

From my notebook:

In the Tibetan Buddhist path we are asked to pause before any period of meditative practice and precede it with reflection on the preciousness of a human life. This is not because we as humans are superior to other beings, but because we can "change the karma." In other words, graced with self-reflexive consciousness, we are endowed with the capacity for choice -- to take stock of what we are doing and change direction.

~ Joanna Macy, from "Gratitude: Where Healing the Earth Begins", Shambhala Sun, November 2007 issue

New Poster from The Dark Knight

Click to Enlarge

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Domineering Sun Sign Takes Charge Of the Planning

Our earlier attempt to organise dinner with the ex-classmates was a disaster. Too many cooks at the broth, as they say. Meanwhile, Ted the Tart tartly remarked: No one from the class should organise his funeral.

What make you think we will be at your funeral, I thought.

Okay, that was catty. I will be there. If nothing else, I will be there for the alcohol. Ted the Tart will be the sort to have free flow at his funeral. It will also be a colour-coordinated affair. With Kylie Minogue playing in the background.

I decided we need another approach to organisation. Our problem was we tried to be too democratic. Every time we made a plan, someone will throw in another suggestion which will over-write prior plans. And some people are obviously not listening and just insisting on their own preferences. Decision by council doesn't work if everyone has different ideas, are unable to compromise, and no one wants to exercise the power of veto. We need a headman for this unruly tribal council.

Guess who's the bossiest Sun sign in the group? Hint: It's a Ram.

I wanted this to be democratic. I also want it settled by this weekend. Aries is not a patient Sun sign and inefficiency gets on my nerves. To achieve this, I narrowed the options down to four choices, for everybody's vote. This much I have learned from our political leaders: restrict the people's choices and they become manageable. The people are happier because they have the illusion of choice -- rarely do they realise that the game has been rigged before they even started.

Thankfully, my dictatorial reign will be a brief one.

This means I get to throw out the lame-brained suggestions, like:

a) skipping dinner and getting drunk instead (we have a pious Muslim in our group, you idiot!)
b) a seafood buffet restaurant (yes, fish are meat too!)

Let's see what we end up with. If they still can't decide when things have been simplified for them, I'm doing the Pontius Pilate and washing my hands off this!

Friday, April 25, 2008

REBECCA SOLNIT | Men Who Explain Things

The LA Times has this great essay by Rebecca Solnit. I love the ancedote (quoted below) about how a pompous ass tried to talk down to her, and ended with the proverbial egg on his face. But most of all, I agree with what she has to say about the people who talk over us -- and how we allow our own voices to be silenced. The essay is worth reading whether you are male or female.

For the Ladies: Read it, please, because this is about you.

For the Gentlemen: Read it please, because you are fair-minded and you have a conscience. Most of all, read it because you might have daughters, wives, mothers, and sisters -- and this is their story.

But first, Rebecca Solnit tells a story about something that happened to her at a party:

He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his grainy wood table and said to me, "So? I hear you've written a couple of books."

I replied, "Several, actually."

He said, in the way you encourage your friend's 7-year-old to describe flute practice, "And what are they about?"

They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, my book on Eadweard Muybridge, the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. "And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?"

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingenue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I'd somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book -- with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, including a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me; with my infinitely generous younger brother; with splendid male friends. Still, there are these other men too.

So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, "That's her book." Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

But he just continued on his way. She had to say, "That's her book" three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a 19th century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn't read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless -- for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing.

Am I a feminist? Probably not in the academic sense of the word. But I am a woman, so I know how it feels like to be treated as a woman. To have my abilities doubted -- simply because I am a woman. To be ignored or patronized -- simply because I am a woman. To earn less than my male colleagues doing the same job with equal or greater competence -- simply because I am a woman.

This is the reason why I am a battling ram, because I resent being dismissed and I demand to be heard. Idiots will always try to belittle you, talk down to you, make you feel small and insignificant. If you believe them, or allow them to convince you of that, then they win. Rebecca Solnit reminds us that we can't allow the Mr. Very Important of the world to silent us:

Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence.

As Solnit reminds us, in its most extreme form, it allows unjust laws in certain countries, "where women's testimony has no legal standing; so that a woman can't testify that she was raped without a male witness to counter the male rapist. Which there rarely is." No self-respecting women would want to live with this kind of unfairness. And I don't believe any man who loves his wife, his mother, his sister or his daughter -- would allow the women in his life to be treated like this.

Yet there are generations of women who have been brought up to believe in their inferiority. Not knowing any alternatives, these women teach their daughters the same values -- of their inferiority by default of gender. Our society enforces this.

Nothing is sadder than the victims who perpetuate the crimes done unto them. Nothing makes me angrier than abuse victims who believe what happened to them is their fault.

Yes, this is personal -- not just because I am a woman -- but because I am also a daughter: My mother was brought up by traditional Chinese parents who favoured her brothers. She believes she is worthless compared to the sons. It worn down her self-esteem. Later in her life, she would marry my father, a critical, emotionally distance man who castigated her in front of her children. She stayed silent through the verbal abuses. She never learned to talk back.

Miraculously, I did. I swear I would never become my mother.

Growing up, my own mother tried to teach me this same bullshit -- I rebelled and I never stopped resenting her for it. Even now, when I hang the laundry out to dry, she would remind me to keep my underwears away from my brother and my father. It is taboo for men to walk under women's underwears, she tells me, because women's underwears are unclean.

"I can't believe you're telling me this!" I almost screamed. My mother still had no idea what was so wrong with what she said. This happened just last year.

When I was very young, my mother would make me help out with the housework. I asked why did I have to help, when my brother did not. It is not fair. My mother's million dollar answer?

"Because he is a boy."

My mother is still the only one doing the housework. If I can, I help.

I help not because I believe women should do the housework. I help because the men in my family wouldn't. I help because my mother is old, and I can't bear her doing housework all by herself.

This is not about being a feminist. This is about fairness, respect and dignity -- and I believe these are universal human truths.


Rebecca Solnit wrote several books, among them, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, and Wanderlust: A History of Walking. I admire Wanderlust and would definitely recommend it -- but it is A Field to Getting Lost that occupies the place in that special bookshelf of my heart.

Say, have anyone read River of Shadows? It's "the very important Muybridge book" in the story quoted above. It's very important, so I better read it soon.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Where To Eat?

Some of my ex-classmates and I were trying to arrange some dinner get together via mass emails this week. In between the usual teasings there were R-rated jokes about pinafore, school uniforms that look like Sailor Moon uniforms, black/lacy bras and asking: "Do you prefer your women with or without bras?" (We are all about asking the important questions) – we managed to agree on a place and time for dinner.

All plans went out the window when a Muslim friend asked for restaurant with halal certification. We are back to Square One on where to go, what to do.

In a nutshell, halal certification means the food served at an establishment has to be prepared in accordance with Islamic dietary laws. For example, pork is strictly forbidden, and there are strict rituals involved in the slaughter of the animals for food.

Some people think vegetarian food = halal, because no meat or lard is involved. However, sometimes wine or alcohol may be used in the cooking, and so it is not safe to assume all vegetarian dishes are suitable for Muslims.

A friend very kindly googled the Malay Muslim restaurants around town. She thought there will definitely be some vegetables for me. Unfortunately, most restaurants here focus on meat dishes. With Asian cuisines, often there will be some shrimp paste, fish paste or chicken/fish stock involved.

Trying to find a place that can cater for a group with a Muslim, a vegetarian, and a fatty meat-loving lawyer is almost impossible. Somehow we keep trying though, because there is a genuine fondness between us. It seems incredible, that we first knew each other when we were 16. Sixteen years later we are still friends who try our best to meet up at least once a year. We try to catch up (who's married, with children, engaged, single, finally came out of the closet.) Not forgetting of course the exchange of barbed insults.

Still, I have no idea where we are going for dinner.

Right now the meat-loving lawyer is making snide remarks about the Muslim and the vegetarian. He just wants thick slab of red meat with lots of fat on it. I am usually indifferent to people who cook and consume meat in front of me. But even I think his meaty diet is gross.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ALMOST Tempted to Watch TASHAN!

I love how the people behind this Hindi movie dares to be shamelessly campy. Unless they are absolutely serious, then it worries me.

Synopsis from the official website:

What happens when you throw two guys who hate each other together...

A cool call center executive Jimmy Cliff (Saif Ali Khan), a desi wannabe gangster Bachchan Pande (Akshay Kumar) add for good measure a beautiful girl Pooja (Kareena Kapoor) who can't be trusted... on a journey across spectacular India... a journey which will alter the course of their lives in more ways than one... a journey where even enemies need to trust each other if they want to be alive...

Trouble is, in this world no one can be trusted ever!

And to top it all, there is the evil eye of Bhaiyyaji (Anil Kapoor) ... a maverick gangster who enjoys killing people as much as he enjoys speaking English.

What you get is.....TASHAN

It's an action movie (I think). But it's the "maverick gangster who enjoys killing people as much as he enjoys speaking English" that I really want to see. Apparently, his ambition is to speak English like George W. Bush.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Meme | How Privileged Are You?

Swiped this off Imani's blog. The original authors of this exercise are Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, and Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate, PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.

Bold the true statements. You can explain further if you wish.

1. Father went to college
Father left school when he was 15.

2. Father finished college

3. Mother went to college
Mother left school when she was 16.

4. Mother finished college

5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.

6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.

7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.

8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
When I was growing up, we used the library a lot. It was only after I started working that I could afford my own books. So maybe I'm just compensating in my adult life.

9. Were read children’s books by a parent

10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18

11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18

12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Actually, they tend to be portrayed as unpopular, angsty losers.

13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18

14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs

15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
My father is not rich. But he believed in providing his children with a good education - as far as we can go. So we never had a car, and we never went on a family cruise - but my dad made sure I never had to worry about the money for my education.

16. Went to a private high school

17. Went to summer camp

18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18

19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels

20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
Actually, I bought my first pair of jeans when I was 14. Until I was a teenager, I wore a lot of hand-me-downs from my richer relatives.

21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
My parents never owned a car.

22. There was original art in your house when you were a child

23. You and your family lived in a single-family house

24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home

25. You had your own room as a child
I shared a room with my brother until I was 13 - because after puberty my dad thought it wasn't right for me to share a room with my brother anymore.

26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18
Nope. In fact, I bought my first mobile/cell phone when I was 25.

27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course

28. Had your own TV in your room in high school
My dad used to be a TV repairman, so we had about 6 TV sets -- he bought broken TV sets and repaired them.

29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college

30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16

31. Went on a cruise with your family

32. Went on more than one cruise with your family

33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up

34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family
Oh, if the bills are high, we would know. Dad would make sure we know.

After doing this meme, I suddenly feel very working class.

Back to Work

Well, the break is over. I am due to show up for work on the 21st of April - today.

The problem is, for the past 2 weeks I have gotten used to sleeping in the day and staying up the whole night. It will take some time switching back to a more normal sleeping cycle.

Right now the time is 6:34 am. I have about half and hour before I need to hit the showers to prepare to get to work.

Back to the grind.

Friday, April 18, 2008

From The Proust Project

One of the many Proust-related readings I have been imbibing is The Proust Project. Edited by Andre Aciman, it's a collection by different writers (among the contributors: Alain de Botton, Lydia Davis, Richard Howard, Susan Minot, Colm Tóibín and Edmund White) on their favourite moments from the Proustian epic, and commentaries on their passage of choice. The essays are arranged chronologically, so my progress through The Proust Project follows my personal journey through In Search of Lost Time.

Recently I revisited some of the earlier essays, and I like what Judith Thurman had to say about Proust and desire. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading Judith Thurman's Cleopatra's Nose - and it only enhances my respect for Ms Thurman.

When I was younger and green, I read the Search for what it would teach me about refinement. Now that I am seasoned, I read it for what it teaches me about voracity. Proust is the model of a great writer: a tenacious soul weak with hunger for experience and sensation, but above all for the milk of meaning to be sucked from them. Hunger, he suggests, not only exercises the faculty of imagination but generates it. The starving, like confectioners of fiction, gorge voluptuously on nothing. They are connoisseurs of all that has been promised, lost, witheld, cherished, discredited, and expended; of what lies beyond reach, in the past, may not exist, or is yet to come. In the form of hunger, a human infant waiting for the breast first experiences life-and-death suspense: narrative at its most primal. And narrative at its worldiest, like Proust's – a banquet that would be decadent and cloying in its excess of richness of it didn't appeal to our appetitie for the sublime – teaches us not only to understand, and helps us not only to endure and to accept, but to savour the insatiable longing that defines.

~ Judith Thurman, from The Proust Project

The X-Files Movie 2

It has been named:

A good reason to watch it:

[Photo of Gillian Anderson from the May'08 issue of Maxim]

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Arrogant Worms sings "Carrot Juice is Murder"

My friend HobbitGirl posted this on Facebook. For some reason she thought I would be offended. Hee. I really need to show her this.

Let's sing along:

I've heard the screams of the vegetables
Watching their skins being peeled
Grated and steamed with no mercy
How do you think that feels?
Carrot juice constitutes murder
Greenhouse are prisons for slaves
It's time to stop all this gardening
Let's call a spade a spade

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New T-shirts

I was stuck at home the past week and I bought some T-shirts online. Just decided to take some photos and share them here.

#1: The I'm Not a Vegetarian Because I Love Animals -- I'm a Vegetarian Because I Hate Plants T-shirt. Well, it's not totally true, but it's a great conversation starter. I love brussel sprouts, asparagus and all types of mushrooms (okay, so mushrooms are not technically vegetables -- but they should be).

I hate snow peas. I really hate snow peas.

#2: I don't eat your fingers women's tee. It was the chickie with the attitude that made me buy it.

Or is it a duckie?

#3: Match It For Pratchett T-shirt. For every purchase, $10 goes to Available via CafePress.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Blackie in Antarctica (Redux)

Stefanie first posted this poem from Margaret Atwood's The Door. It brought a smile to my face, so I went looking for The Door at the local library this week. As it happens, it is available. Naturally, I borrowed it, found a seat at a coffee shop, and started reading.

Here is the poem in its entirety - because anything worth posting is worth posting twice:

Blackie in Antarctica
by Margaret Atwood

My sister phones long distance:
Blackie’s been put down.
Incurable illness. Gauntness and suffering.
General heartbreak.
I thought you’d want to bury him,
she says, in tears.
So I wrapped him in red silk
and put him in the freezer.

Oh Blackie, named bluntly
and without artifice by small girls,
black cat leaping from roof to roof
in doll’s bonnet and pinafore,
Oh sly fur-faced idol
who endured worship and mauling,
often without scratching,
Oh yowling moon-
addict, devious foundling,
neurotic astrologer
who predicted disaster
by then creating it,

Oh midnight-coloured
faithful companion of midnight,
Oh pillow hog,
with your breath of raw liver,
where are you now?

Beside the frozen hamburger
and chicken wings: a paradise
for carnivore. Lying in red silk
and state, like Pharaoh
in a white metallic temple, or
a thin-boned Antarctic
explorer in a gelid parka,
on who didn’t make it. Or
(let's face it) a package
of fish. I hope nobody
en route to dinner
unwraps you by mistake.

What an affront, to be equated
with meat! Catlike, you hated
being ridiculous. You hungered
for justice, at set hours and in the form of sliced beef stew
with gravy.
You wanted what
was coming to you.
is, though. Ridiculous. And coming to you.
For us too.
Justice is what we’ll turn into.
Then there’s mercy.)

Re-reading "Blackie in Antarctica" still made me smile, because it is so absurd, so touchingly human. Anyone else like the abrupt, bombastic descriptions in the opening stanza?

"Incurable illness. Gauntness and suffering.
General heartbreak."

Feels less like a statement on state of mind, more newspaper headlines; beloved pet or not, this is just a cat, not the pope. The morbid humour in juxtaposting the sister's geniune grief against the ludicrous image of the carcass of the black cat mummified in rich, red silk – neatly tucked into cold storage. Why red silk? A vivid red. Yet it could be worse, I suppose. The cat could have been shrouded in hot pink or fuchsia. In flannel. That would have really been undignified.

"Oh Blackie, named bluntly/and without artifice by small girls". What's wrong with Blackie? Or Cat-Cat :)? Some of us remember how in Good Omens, the Boy Antichrist named his pet Satanic Hell-hound, Dog. Dog was a good, solid doggie name. The kind of name that wags its tail at you. Like naming a Jack Russell, Jack or Russell.

Feist on Seasame Street

I just found out Feist has taped a version of her song "1234" for Seasame Street. The episode will air in a few months time. [via]

Is it just really geek of me, or would you agree that it is the coolest thing EVER to appear on Seasame Street? Personally, the only other thing cooler than appearing on Seasame Street is appearing on The Muppet Show.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Islands in the Stream by Constantines+Feist

Follow this link to hear the stream for Islands in the Stream, by Constantines and Feist.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Happiness is an Amazon package

The Kills' Midnight Bloom is finally in, and playing as I type this. I also bought the Ana Forrest's 5-Day Intensive Course. That will be for another day of course. Plus Bernie Clark's YinSights, a philosophical enquiry into the yin practice.

Except I just realised I made a boo-boo with my orders and ordered 2 sets each of the DVD box-sets of Battlestar Galactica Season 3 and Damages Season 1.

How did that happen? It will cost too much to send it back.

Anyone interested in purchasing a DVD box-set of either Battlestar Galactica Season 3 or Damages Season 1?

Well, the damage is done. I can't wait to watch Glenn Close as a Machiavellian lawyer in Damages. I have heard so much about it.

POET ON A POEM | Che Fece...Il Gran Rifiuto

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It's clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he'd still say no. Yet that no--the right no--
drags him down all his life.

~ Cavafy [translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard]

Jane Hirshfield: I love the poem both for its reminder of the possibility of declaring a great Yes and a great No, and also for the koan held by the phrase "the right no." What does that mean, "the right no drags him down all his life"? Sometimes I think it means one thing and sometimes I think it means the other. For me it's a question you can weigh a life against.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

54 Illegal Migrant Workers From Myanmar Suffocated To Death

Caught this piece of news today off Yahoo:

BANGKOK, Thailand - Fifty-four illegal migrant workers from Myanmar suffocated in the back of an unventilated truck Thursday, while the rest of the passengers being smuggled to Thailand pounded on the container and screamed in vain for the driver's help.

More than 100 of the migrants were packed into a 7 x 20 foot container area of a truck normally used to carry seafood. They were being trucked to Phuket when they started collapsing. According to sources, the air-conditioning broke down and temperature reached around 93 degrees that day.

The migrants finally managed to get the driver's attention by pounding and screaming from inside the container. When the driver saw what happened to the migrants, he ran away, and left them there.


I'm a little affected by this piece of news. The unfairness of it, the unnecessary waste of life -- it makes me sad, but most of all it makes me angry. That the political and social conditions of so many countries around the world forces people to take this risk of looking for work outside their country illegal. They died trying to find a better life.

Meanwhile, there are so many people around me, with good health and a steady job that actually allows them a comfortable living -- maybe not a lavish living, but a comfortable one -- whines and complains about how unhappy they are with their lives. Oh, how high the interest rate on their bank loan (for their condominum) is. Oh, you studied law because you didn't know what you want to do and now you're unhappy being a lawyer. Oh, how unhappy that it cost so much to buy a car these days.

All I want to say to them right now is: Shut the fuck up.

A lot of us are unhappy with our lot in life. But the truth is -- a lot of us have a choice. Sometimes it may mean taking a paycut to be happier. No matter how bad the situation is for many of us, we are not desperate. We do not have to pay thousands of dollars to snakeheads to leave our homes for a foreign land packed like animals with a hundred others, inside the container of a truck. All of it just for a chance to earn a little more money for the family.

You don't need that 50th pair of designer shoes. You don't need branded, expensive underwears. You don't need to dine at Four Seasons. You don't need to live in an expensive apartment. These are luxuries, and the fact that you have a choice to luxury is a blessing.

Be grateful for your family, your good health, for having the financial means to support yourself and your family. Think of the 54 people who died for nothing here, the people who would love your lot in life, and stop whining like a spoilt child denied a toy.

Touchstone and Other Meanderings

Convalescence Update:

I know I should be convalescing, but I'm having trouble keeping still everyday. I need to sit up to read and that alone involves moving the stitches. It's still going to be a while before I can resume yoga. It has been about a week since my last practice and I already feel ill at ease.

I found out recently that two of my friends just signed up for the gym. It feels like the world changes the moment I go for surgery. I have half a mind to join them after I recover. Right: yoga and gym. Where will I find the time to do anything else? Let us leave that thought for another day and focus on getting better, shall we?

Starting on Laurie R. King's Touchstone & Writers That Challenge Themselves:

In my restlessness I have started many books, the latest being Laurie R King's Touchstone. I have been a fan of Laurie R. King since 1999 and I still look forward to each new title with excitement.

Laurie R. King is most famous for her Mary Russell series, a Sherlock Holmes pastische that features Mary Russell as the great detective's partner – professionally and as his wife. She also has her Kate Martinelli series, a contemporary police procedural series that I also enjoy.

Touchstone, however, is one of her four stand-alone novels – unrelated to all her other books. King herself has remarked on her blog that while she still loves writing the characters she is famous for, a writer can be bored just writing the same books all the time. Her stand-alone novels are her creative ventures outside the familiar. They can be frightening for an established author, as the audience may not always be accepting of differences.

Neil Gaiman himself faces the same problem. I read recently on his blog, his response to a fan who wrote in to tell Gaiman that he isn't spending enough time writing. The fan then asks Gaiman for the sequel to Neverwhere. Gaiman's reply (with much aplomb, I must say) is that what the fan is asking for is not more new books, but rather, more of the same type of books. He goes on to explain that he would much prefer to write something new than rehash old ideas, and any attempt at something new will take more time. Which is why he isn't writing as fast as a lot of his fans prefer.

If the writers are not the sort to constantly challenge themselves creatively, they probably wouldn't be the sort of writers worth reading anyway. This is one of my frustration with one of my favourite writer (who shall remain unnamed) and the new works she has been producing past few years. I have no doubt on her ability as a writer – she still writes beautifully. Yet there is the teeth-gnashing resentment within me each time I read her newest book. She seems to be circling the same ideas, working in the same style – so smug and self-satisfied with the brilliance of herself. There is nothing challenging about her writing anymore. In fact, she now reads like a lyrical parody of her earlier self. It breaks my heart to admit this, because I had loved those earlier works of hers which are refreshing with their audacity and wit. Now she just feels like a one-trick pony.

Now We Actually Talk About Touchstone:

Which brings me back to Touchstone, in case you think I forgot. I have read one of Laurie R. King's other stand-alone, A Darker Place, a contemporary thriller about a theology professor going undercover to investigate a cult that. It is definitely a departure from what I would expect of Laurie R. King – but to my surprise, it is one my favourite among Laurie R. King's novels. She certainly is not a One Trick Pony – or perhaps she just does that one trick very well – the ability to draw research and characters into good storytelling.

Touchstone qaulifies as a period novel, with its story set in the 1920s, where England the America are coming out of The Great War (World War I) with new enemies, in the form of unions, socialists and communists. There has been three bombing incidents in America, seemingly unrelated until Harris Stuyvesant, an agent from the U.S. Bureau of Investigation, finds a common link between all three in the form of a British Richard Bunsen – a man with connections to the English workers' union, a rising star in British politics and who is romantically linked to a lady from one of the oldest and most influential family of the British aristocracy. Stuyvesant travels to England, and in the process picks up a suspicious ally – a man known as Touchstone.

The touchstone of the story, is one Captain Bennett Grey, a war veteran who was injuried in the line of fire. His injuries led to a perculiar hypersensitivity in Captain Grey's perception of humans and things. Touchstone, as explained in the book:

"It's a soft stone used to prove the purity of gold or silver. But the alchemists used quicksilver, or mercury, because when one touches gold to mercury, the liquid is drawn up to cover the soild, making it look like lead. The inestimable value of touchstone is in the way it reveals the true nature of gold. In the same way, Captain Grey is drawn to the true nature of the person of thing he encounters: He cannot help himself, he reacts and reveals the nature of the person. True or false? Gold or pyrite?"

With a character like Captain Bennett Gray, with his special ability, Laurie R. King is asking for a good degree of suspension of disbelief. I find myself a little challenged in this areas as I could accept, conditionally, Captain Grey's ability to sense the dissonance among the people he interacts with – but the logic as explained by the author is unable to explain his sensitivity to the integrity of inanimate objects.

I also noticed one problem with King's stand-alone novels – as her strength is in characterisation over plot, she now has to spend more time building up several new characters. The process is gradual, but it slows the action of the book somewhat.

I'm about halfway through the book, and most of the principal characters have met. Yet there is a sense of things not yet falling into place – not a good sign since this is supposed to be a period political thriller – and it's not thrilling me yet.

But I'm going to give it more time. There is justifiable reason for me following Laurie R. King for 9 years.

And Now I Conclude With An Ironical Comment:

Oh cool. As I'm typing this, the mail just came in – with the hospital bill. The stitches are still on my body and they are already billing me for the procedure? They are efficient.

The End.

Observations at a Funeral

Yogamum's observations at her dad's funeral reminded me of a few things. One of the things she noticed, is how people often tell you not to cry at the funeral, and they try to comfort you.

I am suddenly seized by the memories of my aunt's funeral. It was during the service, and my mum suddenly broke down in tears. My mum's cousin -- The Annoying Aunt, asked her not to grieve. Not to cry. The Annoying Aunt ordered (even my parents do not order me) me to "Take care of your mum."

I answered her, as respectfully as I could, "Let her cry."

The Annoying Aunt probably thought there was something wrong with me. She looked at way in a manner that was harrassed and hinted at disapproval. I eyed her squarely, suddenly angry at the ignorance of "good intentions."

It was the funeral of my aunt -- my mother's younger sister. She loved my aunt, and watched her combat cancer twice -- painfully. My aunt lost the battle the second time round, when the disease came back stronger, the cancerous cells spreading to her lungs and other organs. My mother took care of her sister through the worse of it all. The Annoying Aunt did not.

My mother loved her sister and now she is dead. My mother grieved because of the loss. "Let her cry," I said. She has a right to her grief. It is one of the honest and human expression of love. Why are people forcing my mother to stop crying?

That day at my aunt's funeral service, I became indignant at how many people kept asking me to "take care" of my mother. "There is nothing wrong with my mother!" I wanted to scream. Not her grief. Rather, there is something cowardly about the rest of them, for being uncomfortable with grief. Instead, they tell my mother to cease and desist this embarrassing sign of weakness; they want their lives (and their funeral service) sanitized without the messy emotions.

The grief is messy -- because it is public. The truth is, we are uneasy with grief, and death. The Annoying Aunt needs to have her uncomfortable emotions off-stage. Since she can't deal with her own anxieties, it is easy to remove my mother. Which they did, much later, when she wouldn't stop crying. They removed my mother from the service.

My mother was one of the few people who stood by my late aunt's bed everyday when she was dying.

And they removed my mother from the funeral service, until she could "collect herself." Or is it until my mother could behave in a manner they preferred?

Another observation by Yogamum, is how some people have the gift of a gentle presence and the ability to say just the right things.

I was reminded of this simple act of kindness from Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking:

I will not forget the instinctive wisdom of the friend who, every day for those first few weeks, brought me a quart container of scallion-and-giner congee from Chinatown. Congee I could eat. Congee was all I could eat.

There is an important lesson in this, I think, almost like a Zen koan.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

BOOKS | The Riddle-Master's Game (Possible Spoiler)

In the Riddle-Master trilogy, Patricia A. McKillip built a grand fantastic world, filled with engimatic characters that lived century-long lives with immense powers. Shape-shifters walked the land, knowledge comes from the learning of riddles.

There are no more wizards in the land since the city of Lungold – the centre of learning for wizards, was destroyed centuries ago. Yet the riddles of the land is filled with the tales of these wizards and magic from long ago.

The people reveres the High One – a mysterious, god-like figure that rules over the land through the land-law. The king of each country holds land-law. Through land-law the king is inextricably bonded to the land and its protection. He senses and awareness of his realm is heightened, almost on a psychic level.

The High One, from the beginning, had left men free to find their own destinies. His sole law was land-law, the law that passed like a breath of life from land-heir to land-heir; if the High One died, or withdrew his immense and intricate power, he could turn his realm into a wasteland.

The High One is never seen; his will is made known through his harpist – a similarly enigmatic figure named Deth, a man who had lived for centuries unaged. One day, Deth came to Morgon of Hed. He came to offer the High One's condolescences on Morgon's parents' death, and to find, on the bequest of the King of An, the one who solved the riddle of Peven. The King of An had sworn a long time ago, one who solves the riddle of Peven will win the hand of his daughter, Raederle – known as "the second most beautiful woman in An." (One is curious on how does one measure beauty? With a rule or a measuring jug?)

Morgon of Hed, the new King of Hed, has solved the riddle of Peven without telling anyone. He is a farmer-king, a true-hearted but very gifted young man born with three stars on his face. As he goes forth to answer the riddle of the three stars on his face, he suddenly finds himself pursued by unnameable shape-shifters who tried to kill him. There he learns the five riddles behind the three stars on his face, and a name given to him before he was born: Star-Bearer:

Who is the Star-Bearer and what will he loose that is bound?

What will one star call out of silence, one star out of darkness, and one star out of death?

Who will come in the time's ending and what will he bring?

Who will sound the earth's harp, silent since the Beginning?

Who will bear stars of fire and ice to the Ending of the Age?

A prophecy speaks of the coming of the Star-Bearer and of a harp and a sword both bearing three stars.

Morgon ends up acquiring great power – at great pain, and great cost. He also learns of the return of an ancient enemy of the land, and somehow their return – as well as the key to defeating them – is tied up with the three stars on his face.

McKillip wove Mogon's journey much like a riddle: with each riddle untangled, more riddles unfold – and one person can wear many masks.


But most of all, I love the theme of vengeance and love in the story. Morgon is saved by his gentleness, his love for the land and the people in it. His love saves him from being broken inspite of great suffering, and it saves him time and again from turning into a murderer.

Towards the end, one of the character said to Morgon:

'…When you broke free of Ghisteslwchlohm's power, why was it me you hunted, instead of him? He took the power of land-law from you. I took your trust, your love. You pursued what you valued most …'

'You and the Morgol kept my heart from turning into stone. I was forced to turn everything I had ever said to her into a lie. And you turned it back into truth. You were that generous with someone you hated.'

In a Revenger's Tale, there can only be two endings: Tragedy or Forgiveness. The answer to The Riddler-Master's Game is forgiveness – or perhaps something greater: love. It was the love Morgon carries in him, a farmer-king of a peaceful land, that made it possible to turn a lie into truth, betrayal into love.

Hamsters in a Car!

From I Can Has Cheezburger

Humorous Pictures
see more crazy cat pics

I love this picture of the Roborovski dwarf hamsters packed in the car. The Roborovskis are the smallest known breed of dwarf hamster around. You can identify them by their white undersides and the white "eyebrows" above their big round eyes. They are shy of human contact and they also move really fast. Once they escape from the cage it's difficult trying to recapture those speedy furries.

I should explain that I used to breed dwarf hamsters -- specifically the Winter Whites and Roborovski varieties. I once had 42 dwarf hamsters under one roof. They called me "Hamster Mother." (My friends called me that, not the hamsters)

But no more. Watching your hamsters die one after another can be heartbreaking. An aging arthritic hamster struggling to crawl to the food bowl is not easy to watch.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

To See a Unicorn

In The Last Unicorn, the fable written by Peter S. Beagle: a unicorn one day discovers she is the only unicorn left in a world that has stopped believing in fairies, fantasy and unicorns. Only someone who believes, can see the unicorn. Otherwise, you just see a horse – whatever your rational mind expect to see. The last unicorn goes on a journey to find out what happened to the rest of her kind. Along the way she finds out there are still some people who believes in unicorn – though not the way we expect:

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

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

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

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

"She would be." Molly sniffed. "It would be the last unicorn in the world that came to Molly Grue." She reached up then to lay her hand on the unicorn's cheek; but both of them flinched a little, and the touch came to rest on the swift, shivering place under the jaw. Molly said, "It's all right. I forgive you."

The Last Unicorn was adapted into an animated film that I watched when I was very young. One of my deepest memory from the film was the scene where Molly Grue first saw the last unicorn, recognise her for what she truly is – and her outcry of regret that the unicorn came so late.

Often we desires something so powerfully – but as the years passed these wishes seemed determined to remain unfulfilled. Then one day, when we least suspect it, our wishes finally arrives – but sadly we are no longer what we used to be. Perhaps what we wanted had come too late, and we are no longer able to appreciate it as we used to.

Molly Grue's outburst is understandable: why couldn't the unicorn have come earlier, when Molly was still young – when it might have still meant something? Now, the unicorn is just a reminder of Molly Grue as she used to be – a mockery almost, of how the years have been unkind. What was once our greatest desire has become a symbol of regret, of loss.

They say: the tragedy in a failed relationship isn't that love has ended, but that love still remains. What is poignant about Molly Grue is that she still believes in spite of the world. How sad it must be, to be alone in your faith.

But then again, it is incredible – and beautiful – that Molly Grue can still believe. Faith comes in unexpected packages, often in the most humble form.

We do not have the power to will the gifts that come to us. Perhaps the only thing we can do, is to do as Molly Grue: To accept the gift as it is; to forgive. There is a soft comfort in this.

I read The Last Unicorn novel last year for the first time. I compared my memory of this scene (from the film) with what was written in the book – and there appears to be some disparity between the two. It was as though I wasn't remembering the thing itself, but my interpretation of what I saw.

I first saw The Last Unicorn animated film when I was a child. At that age, the concept of age and loss should be irrelevant. So why did I choose to remember this scene (out of so many good ones) so dearly? What was going on in my head at that time, at that age?

How curious.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

CHALLENGE | Once Upon a Time II Updated

It is here! Carl's breathlessly awaited Once Upon a Time reading challenge!

For this year, I'll just start easy by aiming for Quest the First:

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time II criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.


Since I finished all 5 books of The Chronicles of Prydain, technically I am done with Quest the First. Heedless of the perils of over-commitment, I shall now move on to Quest the Second, which will be to read at least 1 book each from the 4 genres: fantasy, folklore, fairy tale, and mythology. As such, I had to reorganise and expand (slightly) my previous reading list.

Here goes, Dark Orpheus's Once Upon a Time II Aspirational List 2.0:


  1. The Book of Three (Chronicles of Prydain, Book I) • Lloyd Alexander
  2. The Black Cauldron (Chronicles of Prydain, Book II) • Lloyd Alexander
  3. The Castle of Llyr (Chronicles of Prydain, Book III) • Lloyd Alexander
  4. Taran Wanderer (Chronicles of Prydain, Book IV) • Lloyd Alexander
  5. The High King (Chronicles of Prydain, Book V) • Lloyd Alexander
  6. The Riddle-Master's Game • Patricia A. McKillip
  7. Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy, Book I) • Robin Hobb
  8. Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy, Book II) • Robin Hobb
  9. Assassin's Quest (The Farseer Trilogy, Book III) • Robin Hobb
  10. The Little Prince • Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  11. The Neverending Story • Michael Ende
  12. Fledgling • Octavia E. Butler


  1. The Wood Wife • Terri Windling
  2. The Stress of Her Regard • Tim Powers
  3. Rusalka • C.J. Cherryh
  4. Chernevog • C.J. Cherryh
  5. Yvgenie • C.J. Cherryh
  6. The Looking Glass Wars • Frank Beddor
  7. The Tree of Swords and Jewels • C.J. Cherryh


  1. The Once and Future King • T.H. White
  2. Weight • Jeanette Winterson
  3. Girl Meets Boy • Ali Smith
  4. Medea • Euripides
  5. The Drawing of the Three • Tim Powers

** Titles in purple indicates completed

BOOKS | The Wood Wife by Terri Windling

I believe in the power of serendipity. It often leads me to strange and curious discoveries.

Last weekend I was reading Carl's high praise for Terri Windling's The Wood Wife. I filed it away in my head as "Books to look out for." Imagine my surprise to actually find the book from the local library within the next day. (The local library pay little attention to Fantasy and Science Fiction, so it's something of a miracle, or fate.)

The story is set in contemporary times, with Maggie Black, a poet and writer arriving in the American Southwestern desert (more specifically, Tucson, Arizona). Before this, she had been corresponding through letters (not emails, but actual letters) with the poet Davis Cooper, who had been living a hermit's existence in the desert for decades. Davis Cooper and Maggie Black had never met, yet when he died – apparently drowned in the desert – he left his cabin and most of his possessions to Maggie Black.

Maggie Black arrived with little notion of what she was to find. Later she would discover the reason behind Davis Cooper's demise, as well as the unsolved riddle of a series of paintings done by Surrealist artist Anna Naverra (Davis Cooper's lover) when she was living in the desert. Something about the paintings and the desert land drove Anna Naverra mad. Davis Cooper never found out what it was. His only hint: The Night of the Dark Stone, April 16th – which was also the night Davis Cooper died.

Terri Windling weaved a very readable tale of magic and art intertwined. Only by learning the rules and lores of magic, can Maggie Black find her way to solving the mysteries of the desert land.

Terri Windling had one of the characters quote these lines from Katherine Paterson, the author of Bridge to Terabithia:

'If we marvel at the artist who has written a great book, we must marvel more at those people who lives are works of art and who don't even know it, who wouldn't believe it if they were told. However hard work good writing may be, it is easier than good living.'

This is perhaps the key to the theme of the story. As much as we marvel at art and artists, it is the greater art of living that we should honour and celebrate. The story comes full-circle towards the end, with Maggie Black reclaiming her voice as the poet, something she has forgotten along the way; she had been living another life not true to her voice. Only when she rediscovers her artistic self was she able to answer the question of who she is. And one believes her, when she says, "I want the life I have, not another."

Not many of us can say that about our own lives.

In her Author's Note Terri Windling provides the background for the conception of the tale. It was one of a series of novellas based on the magical artwork of British artist Brian Froud. Over time, the story shape-shifted to The Wood Wife as it is published here. This is the nature of magic and art – you rarely end up where you intended.

If you have time, drop by Stainless Steel Droppings for Carl's tribute to Brian Froud.

I don't know about you, but I'm suddenly seized with an urge to re-watch The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Jim Henson's The Storyteller (Brian Froud was the conceptual designer on them.)

My favourite from The Dark Crystal is the gentle race known as the Mystics:

Friday, April 04, 2008

Soundtrack to Your Life Meme

Swiped this off ghetto of our mind.

If your life had a soundtrack, what would the music be?

  1. Open your iTunes library
  2. Put it on shuffle
  3. Press play
  4. For every question, type the song that’s playing
  5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
  6. Don’t lie and try to pretend you’re cool…

I think I'm self-assured enough not to lie about my taste in music. :)

Opening Credits
"Nemo" – by Nightwish, from Once

Waking Up
"Harbor Song" – from The Best of Suzanne Vega

First Day of School
"All My Stars Aligned" – St Vincent, Marry Me

Falling in Love
"Heartstopper" – Emiliana Torrini, Fisherman's Woman

Breaking Up
"The Taxi Ride" - from the Jane Siberry Anthology

"Free Man In Paris "– Sufjan Stevens from A Tribute to Joni Mitchell

Life's Okay
"Rock N Roll Nigger" – Patti Smith, Land (1975-2002)

Mental Breakdown
"elegie" – Patti Smith, Horses

"Game On" – from Catatonia Greatest Hits

"Boy and the Ghost" – Tarja Turunen, My Winter Storm

Getting Back Together
"Rhythm of the Night" – from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack

"Mr Grieves" – The Pixies, Doolittle

Birth of a Child
"Run Run Run" – from The Velvet Underground & Nico Deluxe Edition

Final Battle
"Untouchable" – Garbage, beautifulgarbage

Death Scene
"Imaginary" – Evanescence, Fallen

Funeral Song
"My Last Cigarette" – k.d. lang, drag

End Credits
"'Cuz I Can" – Pink, I'm Not Dead

Hey, at least I have a cool Death Scene. And I don't mind the End Credits at all.

Thus Our Real Journey Begins

It may be when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

~ Wendell Berry

Thursday, April 03, 2008

My Maybe Sinister Cyst

Hello all. I'm home from the surgery. I was there at 7:00 am and came home around 5pm.

I have pictures of The Kiwi Fruit. Just to gross you guys out -- it's a BALL of white flesh and there's strands of hair. I am oddly fascinated by it, and I couldn't stop looking at the pictures. Why?

Because it is gross. And because it is mine.

Pictures will be uploaded once I can locate a scanner.

The doctor is running test on the growth. Just to confirm it's nothing "sinister", he says. I like that he uses the word "sinister" to describe my cyst. It is something from within that threatens me. Hmmm. I need to ponder this for a while.

One disappointment: Instead of the 4 weeks break from work I have been expecting -- it's only 17 days. Darn. ;p

Watch me now practice moving mindfully like Thich Nhat Hanh -- because it hurts when I move too fast (which I usually do).

Meanwhile I weep because Teacher M is teaching Yoga Core this evening and I can't be there. Her Yoga Core class is intense and really good.

Until later. I should be resting but I am restless.