Oscar material

Friends have been asking if I'm still brooding over the incident described in the previous post (I'm not, well, not really, unless I stop and look at a certain view out my window). So to completely change the subject to something much less brood-able:

John Scalzi has reposted a delightful article he wrote for the Washington Post about ten years ago, "Oscar and me". In a nutshell:
... having an Oscar, even for just three days, is an educational experience. Here’s what I learned.
I don't think the article's really dated one bit. Enjoy!



To be a good guest

I'm not sure when it is that I developed the habit of not showing up empty-handed when I visit someone or show up at their dinner/party, but earlier this evening I was picking up some groceries and suddenly it dawned on me that I'd better stock up on wine, so that I can always grab something from the fridge when I'm on my way out to any number of social engagements that are coming up this Xmas weekend.

My mother is not the most custom-bound person, so this is not an upbringing thing. She's of the opinion that with close family and friends, you don't have to be so 客气 (scrupulously polite, to the point of standing on ceremony). Me --- maybe it's the fact that I'm not a good cook who can contribute anything to the dinner/party table. I feel a little shy if I show up to eat without proffering also at least some simple libations.

Last week, a friend and I were making a call on some older friends whom we don't know that well, and we fretted in Cold Storage about what to bring along. Eventually, we decided on fresh lilies and some chocolates. As it turns out, we lucked out on the latter and happened to select the very brand of chocolates that was the host's husband's favourite.

For this weekend's festivities, everyone is summarily getting wine, except for the party where I've volunteered to bring some food (from the delightful Garden Slug).

Speaking of parties, it's time for that immortal quote from Oz in season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Oz: We should figure out what kinda deal this is. I mean, is it a gathering, a shindig or a hootenanny?
Cordelia: What's the difference?
Oz: Well, a gathering is brie, mellow song stylings; shindig, dip, less mellow song stylings, perhaps a large amount of malt beverage; and hootenanny, well, it's chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny.
--- "Dead Man's Party"
I don't think there are any hootenannies awaiting me this week, but there most certainly will be gatherings (though probably sans brie) and perhaps if I'm lucky even a shindig or two.

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Kick-starting the week

Nature reinterpreted

Every Monday morning should start with Monty Python: "On comedy's flying trapeze" (thanks, sarah!).

Every Monday evening should end with drinks at Majestic Bar and making new friends (or even just one).

(I can't believe it's October already. Where did the year go?)

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Fire bad, tree pretty

One last look

My brain is so tired, the first time I typed that, it came out as: Tree bad, fire pretty. I'm not sure Buffy would have approved.


Korea done. Writing good. Sleep better. Brain dead. Oh, said that already.

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Let the Slayer show you how it's done

Because moody, self-absorbed stalker-boys should not be allowed to get away with harassing and misleading teenage girls. "Buffy vs Edward (Twilight Remixed)" shows how everyone's favourite Slayer would put the dreadful Edward in his place.

(Via Dave and Dio on Facebook.)

Edited to add (July 9): Creator of the video mash-up Jonathan McIntosh discusses how and why he made the mash-up in "What Would Buffy Do? Notes on Dusting Edward Cullen".

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Out and about

I went to my first blogger PR event today, Hewlett-Packard's launch of its new dv2 entertainment notebook (don't ask me why "dv2" is in lower case). I didn't really give it a think before I showed up, except to make sure that Joan would be showing up too.

Note to self: next time, bring more business cards.

This is what I learned about the new notebook: It's lighter than my Macbook, thinner too and has a hard disk six times its size (500 GB). Like my Macbook, it comes in moonlight white or espresso black. Recommended retail price: $1,299 --- which, if you think about it, is just a couple hundred dollars more than the cost of a high-end cell phone (without a phone plan). Huh.

No, it's not a netbook, which is what I've been dreaming of since my Korea trip got confirmed, but it's a pretty darned nice machine for that price.

In other news, we've almost finished the endnotes for our book, I'm caught up on Dollhouse and I'm getting a little ovaried out on the music of Ivy and Jonatha Brooke. Also: still thinking about the Battlestar Galactica finale.

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It's frakkin' over

I stayed up to watch the Battlestar Galactica series finale tonight --- even though I really should be catching up on sleep instead --- because in the three days since it aired, it's been getting ridiculously difficult to avoid spoilerish material online.

Hot damn.

Now it's almost 2 a.m. and I wish there was someone awake who's seen the finale whom I could talk about it with. *growl*

PS: If you're gonna leave a comment on this post, don't leave any spoilers unless you leave plenty of spoiler warnings and spoiler space (this is for the benefit of my BSG-loving friends who haven't gotten around to the finale yet). Thank you!

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer (abridged)

Seven seasons, four minutes, one gambolling piece of music.

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (Abridged)

Thanks, Wahj (who found it via io9).

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Still ennui-fied, as I put it to a friend a couple of days ago, but there are things to be grateful for:
  • Story published in Hemispheres.
  • Recipe attempted successfully.
  • Studio 60 watched in its entirety at last (only two years late).
  • Good, good late-night conversations (post-nap, post-Korean food, post-research trip to bookstore).
  • Good, good friends.

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The Top Gear take on Vietnam

I finished writing the first draft of my Lonely Planet text last night, so it was a good time to watch the Top Gear: Vietnam Special, which turned out to be an excellent episode of travel TV and made me want to hop on the back of a motorcycle in Vietnam again.

Big welcome to Phong Nha

But let me tell you: never mind the show's premise that they weren't travelling fast enough to meet the 8-day deadline to reach the finishing line at Halong Bay. The real reason they took a train from Hue to Hanoi is because there is nothing very interesting between Hue and Hanoi. I should know, I'm writing an entire chapter on that region.

I'm not a huge fan of Top Gear like, say, G-man, but this was a good episode. Also a great PR exercise for Vietnam. I fully imagine that legions of fans are going to show up in Halong Bay looking for Ba Hang Bar and in Hoi An to make zoot suits.

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Degrees of separation

Thanks to the new friends I made on my travels in Vietnam, I am now:
  • two degrees of separation away from Michael Bolton, via a relation of his I met in Hoi An.
  • three degrees of separation away from Aung San Suu Kyi, via someone who's related to her husband's family, whom I also met in Hoi An.
  • two degrees of separation away from Dustin Nguyen,* via my friend in Ho Chi Minh City.
A less upbeat version: a few minutes ago, I learned I'm three degrees of separation away from the a Singaporean being held hostage in the Mumbai attacks.

Edited to add (November 30): Scratch that. I do know a family member of the poor woman who died in the Mumbai attacks. Which really brings a new cast to it being a "small world".

* Being able to identify Dustin Nguyen is also a good indicator of one's age/generation. I immediately identified him in a portfolio of Vietnam advertising images; my much younger friend Yan Wei had no clue who he was.

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What is't but to be nothing else but mad?

I've been watching quite a few Singapore films lately, such as A Wicked Tale, which I liked very much, and Mad About English, which I didn't. My opinion of the latter seems to put me firmly in the minority, though. Other people say:
  • "This piece of work is huge fun from start to finish. It has more laughs, poignancy and warmth than any fictional movie in recent memory. And it beats any of this season's CGI-laden blockbusters for sheer enjoyment value." --- The Straits Times
  • "... a hilarious look at China as its people embark on a mad rush to learn English before the Beijing Olympics. ... this film shows how ordinary lives are changed as China flings its doors open to the West." --- The New Paper
  • "... does a great job capturing the charm and quirkiness of the people." --- movieXclusive.com
  • "Mad About English is highly recommended, and goes into my books as contender to be amongst the best of this year's theatrical releases." --- A Nutshell Review/Sinema
Uh ... no, no, no and no. The film aggravated me enough that I spent part of the weekend writing down what I thought of it (without being ranty, despite the aggravation). Your mileage, as always, may vary.

In a scene from the documentary film Mad About English that also appears in the movie trailer, a police officer in Beijing unleashes his repertoire of Brooklyn-accented English: "Hey, whaddya want?", "Fuhgetabowdit!", "What's up, man?", "Put yer gun down!" Yes, he sounds as if he's been watching too many Robert de Niro movies.

We laugh, of course, because of the incongruity between the chubby, pink-cheeked Chinese mainlander, and the harsh New York slang that he rattles off so unthinkingly. But in the film we never find out how he picked up this accent, when he thinks lines like "Fuhgetabowdit!" are going to come in useful in his daily patrols, or why he enjoys chatting with tourists while he's in uniform (he's supposed to be a police officer, not a tour guide). He's an object of curiosity, both to the tourists he meets and to us watching him as he rehearses his "Welcome to Beijing" lines in English, German, Japanese and other languages. And he remains just that: an oddity, a strange bird, nothing more than a funny little Chinese man.

Multiply that by 92 minutes, and that's the sum total of Mad About English. Every English learners featured in the film, from a 12-year-old cherub to a 74-year-old retiree, is introduced with all the fanfare of, "Oh look! Here’s another Chinese person who’s a little nutty about learning English!" Then we hear the person dutifully recite a few English sentences – with some incorrect pronunciation or grammar, or moments of pure misunderstanding for "comic relief", of course. Perhaps he or she gets some airtime to murmur something about how important it is to learn English so as to welcome foreign visitors to the Beijing Olympics.

Then the film cuts to the next character waiting in the wings. Lather, rinse, repeat.

No matter how many times we come back to any of these people, we never find out their full stories. Where do they come from? How do they feel spending so much time and energy to learn a language that is so historically, culturally and grammatically divorced from their own? What are the implications of learning English when China is on the ascendant? Are these people fringe elements or truly representative of English learners in Beijing (or, for that matter, the rest of China)?

So many questions, hardly any answers. There's only so long that you can watch people stumble over learning a foreign language before it starts to feel not only trite and tired, but also mean and cheap. Stick a camera in front of anyone learning a foreign language – especially a language with such different roots from one's native tongue – and you’d pretty much get the same result. There are signs in Paris that have just as entertaining (or apparently insipid) translation errors in English as they do in Beijing. There are Americans or Europeans learning to speak Mandarin who make just as egregious or laughable errors as these Chinese mainlanders stuttering their way through English. Mad About English doesn't tell us anything that we don't know already.

It was also ironic that all the Chinese interviewees largely spoke in English, whether they were being interviewed or interacting with other (Chinese) people. It felt as if they were constantly having to perform in English, with little opportunity to speak in their native tongue and say what they really thought and felt. Perhaps this was deliberate, to show exactly how "mad" about English these people are, but it only made them seem more inscrutable and kooky (ah, those inscrutable Orientals!), allowing them to be laughed at but not understood.

And really, why should we laugh? Because they make mistakes, as beginners always do? Because they speak English "wrongly", as shown by the bewilderment of the white man they’re speaking to? The laughter makes us complicit in the white man's criticism (not critique, which is what's lacking here) of non-native English speakers, without questioning if that criticism is justified in the first place.

Sure, it's funny for about five seconds to hear a little old lady struggle with saying "bowel movements" and "take off your shirt" (she’s a doctor learning phrases she’ll need to communicate with foreign patients). But the job she does, the life she's led and her determination to learn shouldn't be dismissed on the level of toilet humour. All these people learning English – they deserve better than this.

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One problem with growing up in the '80s

... is that I woke up this morning with, inexplicably, Stevie Wonder's rendition of "I Just Called To Say I Love You" in my head. And it wasn't till I was halfway through my shower that I realised it.


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Too much sci-fi

I dreamed of Cylons and Terminators --- or rather, of robots that looked like Cylons but behaved like Terminators. Which made for a confusing moment in the dream when the room we were hiding in was discovered by Cylon-lookalikes, and we froze, thinking they were going to kill us all --- but they merely looked at us, decided we weren't part of their mission (in Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles, this is an important distinction) and moved on.

This is what comes of watching
Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles before bed, while having Battlestar Galactica on the brain.


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What English am I speaking?

I was talking to a friend about another friend, Jamal, and for some reason I started pronouncing the name as "Juh-MAHL" instead of "JAH-mull". To which the friend I was speaking to said, "He didn't grow up in Noo York, you know."

I have no idea where that moment of cultural disconnect came from, but I felt very contrite. I felt even more contrite when I was thinking a little harder about the name and my brain switched channels to "Malcolm-Jamal Warner" --- yes, he of The Cosby Show fame (or lack thereof). I knew watching hours and hours of that show as a kid would someday come back to haunt me.

Time to spank the inner street slangster and get my tongue back to a less affected local pronunciation.


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I knew it!

It took watching 1½ episodes of The Amazing Race with full attention to figure it out, but my instincts weren't wrong: racer Jason (of team Lorena and Jason) is the Jason Widener who played a younger version of Jed Bartlet in The West Wing season 2 season finale, "Two Cathedrals". He sounds exactly the same.

Man, I've watched way too much "Two Cathedrals" than is normal.


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Orange and yellow make the world go Hallow-eeny

I didn't do anything Halloween-y this year, unless you count the orange I ate after dinner as some kind of tropical substitute for pumpkin (it was sliced into wedges, not carved, and consumed with all the finesse of a ravenous zombie).

I did "give" a bunch of friends candy corn, courtesy of the SuperPoke! application on Facebook. But that was mostly because I was excited at both finding out that SuperPoke! had Halloween actions, as well as seeing the words "candy corn" (another Americanism that I'm sure ballsy is picking up). Not that I ever actually liked candy corn. Feed me some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups any day --- available in Halloween colours all year long!

I was telling James how it's wicked fun dressing up for Halloween only if you're clever enough to think up an ironic costume, like Oz does on Buffy (season 4) when his girlfriend Willow is dressed up as Joan of Arc whom she says had "a close relationship with God" --- cue Oz pointing to the friendly white sticker on his flannel shirt that says, "GOD". Tofu Nation had a pretty close encounter with one such cleverly costumed couple this year: A-Salt and Battery (scroll down to the image of the woman in bright yellow).

Now that I think about it, maybe I should've done something Halloween-y this year. After all, given how rabid the religious right has been in Singapore lately, by next year Halloween might be banned, along with the abominations of birth control and pigskin footwear.
BARTLET: I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.
JENNA JACOBS: I don't say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.
BARTLET: Yes, it does. Leviticus.
BARTLET: Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, and always clears the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2, clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here's one that's really important, 'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes us unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?

--- "The Midterms", The West Wing
Yeah, I'm as pissed off at Thio Li Ann and her supporters as any other reasonable human being. Yeah, and I said "pissed off", not "pissed on [her grave]". And this isn't anonymous, either.


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LotR product placement madness

I rarely read McSweeney's because my brain never got into it, but samueljl points me to: "Scenes From Lord of the Rings That Might Have Been Used as Setups for Bad Commercials Had the Filmmakers Not Respected the Material By".

ARAGORN: What do your elf eyes see?

LEGOLAS: There ... in the distance ... (Points excitedly) ... two arches of gold.

Related posts: We hate blogses, Help me, Peter Jackson, you're my only hope, Burp, LotR tidbits

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I have a bad earworm

Blame it on the iCommons party I attended last night, but I woke up with an insipid mash-up of Garbage's "When I Grow Up" with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "Enola Gay".

And it won't go away.


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Did you know ...

... that the first CD ever produced was The Visitors by Abba? So says BBC News, as the "Compact disc hits 25th birthday".

I've never been a real musichead so I don't think I started buying CDs till the early 1990s. When I graduated from university in 1997, CDs were still something you bought in a music store ("CD store", though they didn't sell blank ones), while data storage to the average person meant 3.5" floppy disks or Iomega zip disks with a whopping 100 MB capacity.

I don't remember the first CD I bought (though I remember that the first cassette tape was a 1983 compilation of Grammy Award-winning songs). I do know that I did a double-take after seeing Discmans for sale in Ho Chi Minh City last week (alongside pirated music CDs, no less) and I almost wished I hadn't given my mother permission to sell mine some years ago, otherwise I could add it to my growing Collection of Obsolete Technology.

When I cleaned house a couple of months ago, I accumulated at least 100 used CDs for recycling. My mother now hangs some of them outside her windows to scare the birds away. How far we've come.


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Invisible City --- have you seen it?

Invisible City e-flyer

To begin, I should admit my biases: I'm friends with Pin Pin and I really enjoyed her previous film, Singapore GaGa. Even though I didn't really know anything about Invisible City while she was putting it together, I went to see it with more than just an open mind --- I went with the expectation of being surprised, again, about some overlooked facet of the Singapore story (a phrase that, by the way, desperately needs to be reclaimed from where it's been boldly slapped on a fat red memoir).

Having seen the film, though, I'm not sure what to say about it. I sat down to write a "typical" film review, but I ended up waxing lyrical bloviating about this, that and the other detail in a predictably self-important but meaningless fashion that demanded immediate backspacing.

Perhaps I'll just say this: Invisible City is a very different film from Singapore GaGa. It is a quiet film, a thoughtful film, a film that invites you between the edges of a crumbling memory to see what's left within. It's unflinching at certain moments, maiden-coy at others. And it's a journey worth taking with the filmmaker to find out what we have forgotten (ironic as that sounds).

As the Singapore Heritage Fest gets underway and Singaporeans wring their hands and rend their garments over en bloc property sales and threatened 80-year-old trees, I can easily imagine Invisible City becoming pigeonholed as some kind of call to arms to save our history and heritage before it's completely obliterated. But that would be an insult to the film that it is. Watch it, watch it a little more closely, and you'll see.


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Pictures from the past

Yahoo! Photos is closing, which doesn't surprise me that much since Flickr's been in the Yahoo! stable of companies for a while now. What did surprise me was that I got an email alert about it through my Yahoo! account, because I didn't think I had any photos there.

Oh wait, I did --- but they weren't photos that I'd taken myself or even, particularly, want to admit to possessing now. In fact, this admission makes me sound like I'm still in Facebook's target demographic: who knew that downloaded pictures of Goran Visnjic and Milo Ventimiglia from the late 1990s still resided on my Yahoo! Photos account?

Ah, those halcyon ER days ... and this is pre-Heroes (i.e. Gilmore Girls-era) Ventimiglia to boot.

Clearly I have (had?) a thing for dark-haired men of European ancestry and with difficult-to-spell-without-Googling-to-check surnames.


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I watch too much TV

I saw my first episode of Ugly Betty last night --- or rather, the second half of whatever episode was on Channel 5 that my flatmate was watching. Not that I was providing a running commentary throughout, but the conversation soon pretty much went like this:

"Oh, that's the guy who was on Popular, this teen show about 3 or 4 years ago [Ed: oops, more like circa 1999]. And then he was on this sci-fi Jake 2.0. He's really cute, they make him look a lot older here." --- the highly underrated Christopher Gorham.

"Oh, she was on, what was that '80s show called, with Alyssa Milano and Tony Danza ... "
"Who's The Boss," the flatmate helpfully supplied.
"Yes! The boss, the one who hired Tony Danza." --- Judith Light.

"Oh, her! Have you seen Heroes? She was one of those with powers, but, er, something happened to her. She has a very sweet face." --- Jayman Mays.

"Oh, he was on The O.C., playing the grandfather." --- Alan Dale.

And that excludes Lucy Liu or Rebecca Romijn, who are way too recognisable for anyone to get points for picking them out.

Perhaps Ugly Betty is the new "six degrees of Kevin Bacon".


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My very first Hindu wedding

In which I did not understand a whit of what was going on, because I failed to do a little educational Googling before showing up this morning.

At any rate, it was as colourful as I'd expected, despite the drizzly weather, and the videographer, just like his fictional counterpart in Bend It Like Beckham, firmly instructed the bride as she got out of the car, "Don't smile ah, don't smile." I wanted to chime in with the rest of the line from the movie: "Indian bride never smile! You ruin the bloody video!"

My very first Hindu wedding

No video was harmed in the making of this married couple.

The rites were pretty, the legal solemnisation ceremony that followed banal and flat in comparison. And because I was sitting in the midst of a number of guests who were government employees, I started wondering who were the poor government employees who had to draft and finesse those civil marriage vows in the first place.

In future, I'll remember not to heap my plate so high at the lunch buffet because the stuff I like (potato curry, prawn vadai, papadums) are mostly carbohydrates after all. Good thing I went shopping after that to work it off.


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Prophetic much?

Who said this in 1970?
Life is not just eating, drinking, television and cinema. ... The human mind must be creative, must be self-generating: it cannot depend on just gadgets to amuse itself."
Well, obviously, I'm screwed.


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Making the prequels make sense

When George Lucas makes a tasteless chop suey out of his own mythology, it's nice that someone else tried to make sense of it:
As we now know, the rebel Alliance was founded by Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Bail Organa. What can readily be deduced is that their first recruit, who soon became their top field agent, was R2-D2. ... When he needed reliable people to join the embryonic Alliance, who else would Yoda turn to but his old friend from Kashykk? Given his background, there is no way that Chewie would spend the crucial years of the rebellion as the second-in-command to (sorry Han) a low-level smuggler. Unless it's his cover. In fact, Chewie is a top-line spy and flies what is in many ways the Rebellion's best ship.
(Via Montykins.)

It doesn't necessarily make The Revenge of the Sith go down any better, but at least it shows how neatly things could have been resolved if Lucas had only tried.


Related posts: I have plus 10 geek cred, You were my Yoda!, You know what really bugs me?, A long, long time ago

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Surprises while shopping


If you love/hate television as much as I do, and/or spent a great deal of time growing up on it (specifically, on American TV) like a good child of the '80s, then it will be delightful for you to find, as I did, that the local Kinokuniya has copies of the inimitable Television Without Pity: 752 Things We Love to Hate (and Hate to Love) About TV. I was going to order it off Amazon anyway, but now I have it in all its corn-yellow and crimson-red fury. It's filled with choice entries such as this (also available on the book website):
[David] Hasselhoff is not a master thespian, but he gives 100 percent to whatever role he's in, whether it's muttering urgently into a two-way-radio watch that his car needs to break him out of a small-town jail cell (again) or dashing grimly down the beach to save a drowning swimmer, stomach sucked valiantly in.
... which kept me leafing back and forth through it for far more snarky pop culture commentary than is healthy to absorb in one sitting.

There are at least two more copies still available on the shelves at the Ngee Ann City Kinokuniya's TV section (the elevated area adjacent to Page One's domain).


On our way out, we stopped at Cold Storage to pick up a couple of groceries --- which then vanished without a trace from the checkout counter in the several seconds it took me to pay for them. The likely suspects: the woman in the line before me, who had purchased a bottle of green tea and declined a bag for it (but that suggests she had probably walked straight off without stopping to take anything), or the couple before her, whose credit card payment seemed to have required a little extra fussing and fiddling while they grappled with their plastic bags of groceries.

I don't think anyone swiped my purchase intentionally (hello, $11.50 of ground coffee and no-sugar soy milk isn't terribly attractive booty), but it was surreal to zip up my wallet, look down at the counter and find it completely empty. More surreal was the cashier's response: "Aiya, this always happens." To which Terz astutely noted afterwards, "If it always happens, shouldn't they do something about it?"

Anyway, they replaced my purchased groceries without any further ado (or rather, I walked off to sweep them up for the second time, since that would be faster than waiting for one of the staff to do it). I hope whoever got the bonus coffee and soy milk, er, enjoys it.


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The year 2006, in books

I was going to start this post with "Another year, another list --- " --- but I already used that line last year. Damn.

If you haven't read my annual lists before and you're curious why I do it, read the first paragraph of the very first list in for the year 2003.

In terms of sheer quantity, this list beats last year's shabby tally of 19, but it's nowhere near 2004's record of 44. (How the hell did I do that? Oh yeah, by rereading a whole bunch of stuff.) This year's count would've been better if not for the total dearth of completing any books between August and November: consider that I finished 19 books by August and then nothing till the 4 I squeezed in before year's end.

In my own defence, August was also the start of my goodbusy period, during which commuting time that I used to spend reading was instead diverted to checking email on the go (correspondingly, my 3G cell phone bill went up). For instance, I definitely started on Spoken Here (#21 on the list) in August, but only finished it a couple of weeks ago.

But enough with the excuses. On to the list.

1. The Jesus Mysteries, Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (January)

A university alumni pal recommended this after one of our lunch conversations wandered into the realm of "Do you believe in God?" The next time we met, I proudly told him, "You know that book you recommended? I read it and now I really don't believe in God anymore." His response: "Oh dear, I think I'm going to hell for that one."

As I was quick to reassure him, it's not so much that this book entirely transformed my religious worldview, as that it sharpened some of the doubts I already had about Christianity. And I'll admit it was somewhat unsettling as I worked my way through the book and towards the conclusion that God doesn't exist. It doesn't come easily, for someone like me who grew up going to church, to decide that there really is no God. It's a pretty hardcore decision, not merely like being disillusioned with the church while still tossing out the occasional desperate God-can-you-fix-this-please-please-pretty-pretty-please petition.

Anyway, so I don't believe there is a God/god and this book helped me to figure out why. Which may or may not make other people want to read it.

2. 50 Facts That Should Change The World, Jessica Williams (January)

One of those books that I probably wouldn't have bought if I wasn't trying to make up a combo for Borders' 3-for-the-price-of-2 deals. Well done, marketing strategists! Anyhow, it was a good read and elicited about as much middle-class liberal guilt as it was intended to, after which I, er, put it back on my bookshelf. I should pass the copy on to some General Paper student before its information becomes completely outdated.

3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (January)

Ah, Murakami --- always so strange, yet so satisfying.

4. The Lemon Table, Julian Barnes (January)

I don't usually buy hardcovers , but this one was available for a few bucks at some warehouse clearance book sale. I liked the heft it lent to a light (okay, I always refer to short story collections as "light", even though that doesn't do justice to them) and good read. I can only remember one short story offhand, but it was one of the more poignant ones so maybe that's the kind that sticks in my head.

5. Invitation To Treat, Eleanor Wong (January)

I've only seen the staging of the last play in this trilogy, so it was great to pick up the full set and see how the characters got there from the start (even though each play can be appreciated as a stand-alone piece). I can't think of a better way to say it, than to say that Wong writes with great craft yet humanity. To paraphrase what I said about Alan Hollinghurst a few years ago, she's a good writer of drama, not just a good writer of gay drama.

6. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (February) *
7. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman (February)
8. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman (February)

After years of procrastination (I read The Golden Compass when it was first released in 1995), I finally hijacked the National Library's copies of His Dark Materials trilogy and gave them the attention they deserved. And yes, now I'm fully aware of what I've been missing all these years. Cameron, as usual, writes about it much better than I could, so let me redirect you to her post (spoiler warning), which starts off assessing the audiobooks but also gets to the heart of the philosophical worldview Pullman's created.

9. Talking It Over, Julian Barnes (February)

Familiar characters, dancing a new dance (or maybe just a variation of the old one). The characters are older and bitter-er --- I like!

10. The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited, Francis Seow (March)

One of the first books I pulled off the shelf at work when I started work on the National Museum project --- but for leisure reading, of course. Francis Seow provides a not-too-pedantic survey of the Singapore press vs. the Singapore government from the post-World War 2 period, amidst the earliest stirrings of national independence. The book's replete with delicious quotations from Lee Kuan Yew, as uttered at different points of his political career (and of Singapore's relative press freedoms). It should be absolutely required reading for anyone who still thinks the current Singapore media isn't a mouthpiece of the Singapore government. The recounting of the 1971 Singapore Herald saga is reason enough to pick this up.

Now if only we could get an updated edition that assesses the impact (or lack thereof) of the 2000/2001 "opening up" of the local media with new TV stations (the uninspiringly named and short-lived TVWorks) and newspapers respectively, as well as the September 2004 merger of media companies that returned Singapore to, more or less, the status quo.

11. Life Is Not Complete Without Shopping, Chua Beng Huat (April)

Another one snuck off the office shelf. I have to say that the book's title is sexier than its contents. Yeah, it's fun to read about shopping and consumerism, but this isn't the most riveting account of why Singaporeans are absolutely obsessed with both. Nice bits about the elevation of ah beng/ah lian (sub)culture and local food, though.

12. Marry Me, John Updike (April)

In case you didn't know already, marriage is a very strange institution and good fiction writers have spun many an entertaining tale of it. A compact and compelling story of two couples. To say any more would spoil it all.

13. The Accidental, Ali Smith (April)

I might have bought this because it had a sticker saying that it'd won the 2005 Whitbread Novel of the Year award. Talk about unreliable narrators and dysfunctional families, and then some. How is it that writers make dysfunction so beautiful and so heartbreaking at the same time?

14. Oscar & Lucinda, Peter Carey (June)

I attempted to read this a couple of years ago and didn't get more than a quarter of the way through before I gave up, too impatient to wait for the parallel narratives of the eponymous characters to dovetail. This time around, the story engaged me more and the payoff was well worth it. What a peculiar story to weave in a historial setting, though.

15. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides (June)

After reading Middlesex, this seemed like an oddly light concoction: a bunch of boys, after a bunch of sisters, who then killed themselves. On the other hand, a creepy version of the venerable coming-of-age tale, perhaps?

16. Everyman, Philip Roth (June)

More death, reversed into life. Roth is good at writing about the angst of old(er) men, but I'm glad he kept this to a compact 200-plus page novel. It made the point far more effectively than some of his more belaboured treatises.

17. In the Miso Soup, Ryu Murakami (July)

The other Murakami and, based on my reading of this one book, the infinitely weirder one. I can't remember the name of the antagonist offhand, but just thinking about him creeps me out.

18. Memoirs of My Melancholic Whores, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (July)

More memories of old(er) men. As with the Roth, it offers a taste of what the writer's done with his longer novels, here sharpened into focus.

19. Down Under, Bill Bryson (August) *

I read it every year (okay, except that I missed it last year), whenever I need a break from new reading and want to go back to something familiar and friendly. Just call it my Linus's blanket. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? Nothing makes me want to revisit Australia like this book. Oh, and this ad.

20. Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven Johnson (November)

This is exactly the kind of pop culture book I hope to be able to write some day --- with a fluffy title that will make my father wonder why he ever bothered to send me to school, yet packed with insightful observations and accessible ways to understand a potentially bothersome topic. Also, for any gamers and TV-series DVD addicts out there who need to justify your respective obsessions to your loved ones, this is the book you should study, then give to them for Xmas.

21. Spoken Here, Mark Abley (December)

Okay, so if I'm not going to write a pop culture book, this is the other kind of thoroughly researched and absolutely engaging general non-fiction that I would like to be able to write. Mark Abley spends what I can only imagine must have been years and years, all told, with people who work to reclaim various endangered languages all around the world (not just the Third World with its "primitive" languages, as one might assume). But this book is more than about individual languages; it's also about how our ideas and our very understanding of the world we live in is shaped by what our language permits us to express. To a fairly monolingual speaker/thinker like myself, it's a startling reminder of how limited English --- or any one language, for that matter --- is, if that one language is all we know.

22. Media Unlimited, Todd Gitlin (December)

I can't remember how this book wound up on by "books to read" list, but I finally picked up a copy at Borders and got it done. It provided an interesting counterpoint Everything Bad Is Good For You, which deals largely with media content, while this book looked at the sheer volume of the media onslaught instead.

23. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris (December)

I kept hearing David Sedaris's name mentioned, and then there were all these glowing blurbs on the front and back cover of this book --- but somehow it didn't quite do it for me. Yeah, it was entertaining, but it wasn't as addictive or wicked as I expected. So it was a bit of a flat note on which to end the year's reading.

And so in 2006, I managed to avoid J.M. Coetzee even though I've vowed to read him for at least two years now. There's something about the author that's intimidates me, though. The closest I've come is to buying one of his books for my cousin off her Amazon wishlist; even when I was at Kinokuniya for the 20% off sale on Tuesday, I sailed right by his shelf.

2007's off to a good start with Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years. Then there's Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown, Julian Barnes's Arthur and George, Zadie Smith's On Beauty, Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close all waiting in the wings (courtesy of recent book sales). Further reading suggestions are, as always, welcome!


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The gender gap circa 2006: the pop culture version

I've spent the last couple of weeks thoroughly immersed in the world of Veronica Mars, watching seasons 1 and 2 practically nonstop. While this has had all sorts of interesting side effects on my social life, manner of speaking and dreams, the most unexpected corollary has been unearthing another indicator of the gender gap.

In short: The women love Logan Echolls (link contains season 3 spoilers). The men don't, at all, and, furthermore, they don't understand why we find him attractive.

Ah, the impossibility of explaining the appeal of the Bad Boy ...

Maybe the Bad Boy works because he's safely dreamy in whatever TV universe he lives in and has little, if any, opportunity to screw around with our lives (although our heroine, of course, remains deliciously in peril of it). Maybe we want to live on the edge a little, while still (fairly) certain that the Bad Boy will not only lead us to that edge but pull us back in time. Maybe we just all want to piss off our parents, so that for at least fifteen panicked seconds, they're entertaining the notion we might actually want to marry one of these Bad Boys.

Maybe we just want to land a Bad Boy just to prove that we can --- without necessarily wanting to be landed forever with the responsibility of bailing him out of jail or whatever other expensive or inconvenient circumstances he winds up in.

Do nice boys finish last? Discuss.


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They will blow your mind

"Fruity Oaty Bars" is the best cell phone ringtone ever.


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All I wanted was a Coke

No Coke

I couldn't believe my eyes. I was standing in a well-stocked 24-hour supermarket, and they didn't have a single-serving-sized Coke. They had Vanilla Coke in a can, Coke Lime and Coke Light in small bottles, but no plain ol'-fashioned no-modifier Coke unless I wanted to cough up for a 2-litre bottle or a 6-pack.

I just wanted one Coke.

I settled for Vanilla Coke --- and then I remembered after about a quarter of the can why I actually prefer Vanilla Coke Light to Vanilla Coke.

To console myself, I picked up a packet of Van Houten (very plebian, I know) chocolate-covered raisins to go with the Vanilla Coke. But by the time I got home, panaphobic called and then work beckoned and then I forgot about my chocolates.

I did finish the vile Vanilla Coke, though. Pah!


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The Cowboy Bar Halloween party (aka Virtual Insanity) is in five three (shit, I can't count either) days' time.

I have no costume.

I thought of going as Inara, but it's harder than it sounds plus my hair's not long enough.

I thought of dressing up as a parking auntie pontianak, but Terz said it might get me beaten up by aggrieved drivers.

I do not wish to spend $80 renting a costume from any of the shops.



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I have plus 10 geek cred

I like Urban Dictionary's word of the day. Sometimes it's silly, sometimes it puts the finger on that very term I've been looking for (as it did with the recent "tune wedgie" or last month's "mancation").

And sometimes it's just hits. The. Spot.

Yesterday's word of the day was "geek cred", the meaning of which isn't too difficult to parse. But it was one of the illustrative examples they provided that killed me:
"You have the un-edited original trilogy ripped from the laser discs? That's like, plus 10 geek cred."
I have the un-edited original trilogy (Star Wars, in case you weren't following) ripped from the laser discs, thanks to the kindness of the ex-boyfriend.

I have plus 10 geek cred.

Thank you, everybody.


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A meeting of minds

It's very thrilling to unexpectedly meet someone who not only appreciates Beautiful Girls as much I do, but once we get started on it, both of us immediately quote the same line: "Romeo and Juliet, the dyslexic version."


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Reason #507 why my cousins rock my world

DVD booty

Because they (Packrat and Ondine, to be precise) got me this!!

Macross and Southern Cross and Mospeada --- all in one 22-disc package!

They found it in Sembawang Music Centre and the first thing they did was to get it for me!!! (Plus they thus avoided paying some exorbitant price at Amazon or something.)


Let's not forget that I am the person whose name still appears on the alt.fan.robotech FAQ, even though I haven't gone near the newgroup or FAQ since the mid-1990s.

So far, Terz and I have watched about six episodes of Macross and we're stunned, stunned at how tacky and choppy it is. I will say, in my own defence, that it was the Jack McKinney books rather than the American animated series that got me hooked onto the series, though. And of course, it was Packrat himself who, many moons ago, first passed me those books ...


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Too soon for comfort

Sometimes I see the preview trailer for World Trade Center on TV and I think, no, I'm not ready to watch that yet. No, not even the trailer.


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Not done growing yet

Let's see how I measure up against 25 Signs That, Sadly, You've Grown Up (via By The Way).

1. Your house plants are alive, and you can't smoke any of them.

The only house plant we've ever had is dead. In fact, any house plants ever given to me by some well-meaning friend has died. So perhaps this criterion doesn't really apply to me anyway.

2. Having sex in a twin bed is out of the question.

I'd say sleeping in one for more than one night is out of the question.

3. You keep more food than beer in the fridge.

True --- but only because beer isn't exactly dirt cheap in Singapore (I don't like the canned varieties).

4. 6:00 AM is when you get up, not when you go to bed.

Not any more! I usually wake up at about 8 am these days. Never been to bed at 6 am more than a dozen times in my life, though.

5. You hear your favorite song on an elevator.

Okay, I've never heard my favourite song on an elevator (or any number that count as favourites at any given time), but I have heard the muzak version of music that I liked ten, twenty years ago in an elevator, and I remember cringing at the fact --- both at the dishonour done to the song and the fact that I was old enough to remember when it first came out.

Actually, at my age, popping by Zouk's Mambo Night is a surefire way to induce the latter reaction.

6. You watch the Weather Channel.

Don't have it in Singapore! On occasion, we find ourselves watching some Shakespearean or period drama on the Hallmark Channel, though. Does that count?

7. Your friends marry and divorce instead of hook up and break up.

Fortunately, most of my friends either seem to be comfortably ensconced in the marriage boat or are still at the hook-up/break-up stage, skipping the messy business of divorce (though not always the messy business of how-do-we-stay-friends-and-hang-out-with-that-cool-person-now-that-they're-broken-up-with-our-friend?).

8. You go from 130 days of vacation time to 14.

Technically, I get zero vacation time this year. If I don't work, I don't make any money. Ah, the glory of freelancing ...

9. Jeans and a sweater no longer qualify as "dressed up."

Definitely not a sweater, in Singapore, but I'm going to assume a T-shirt passes for the tropical equivalent. Yeah, a T-shirt with jeans (or anything, really) doesn't quite qualify as "dressed up" in my book anymore, but I can still get away with it on days when I don't have to meet Anyone Important.

On the other hand, "dressed up" for my line of work can still mean nice jeans (i.e. without embarrassing holes or an unflattering silhouette), just paired instead with a dressy-ish top and non-sneaker shoes.

Note to self: learn more from Tofu Nation.

10. You're the one calling the police because those damn kids next door won't turn down the stereo.

Fortunately, there are no damn kids next door old enough to blast the stereo (though one of our neighbour's is about to have a baby, which I suppose could trigger a whole different kind of stereo noise). However, I did almost call the police once when a Seventh Moon/Hungry Ghost Festival auction at a neighbouring block went on for far too long, far too late on a Sunday night.

11. Older relatives feel comfortable telling sex jokes around you.

Damn, with my mother's side, this has been happening since I was a teenager. It's just that half of the jokes are in Cantonese, which I don't altogether follow.

My father's former colleagues still don't want to swear around me, though.

12. You don't know what time Taco Bell closes anymore.

I never liked Taco Bell. I do, however, know where to get food after midnight in Singapore, and thanks to an IM conversation with Sarah, I now know that the pseudo-pretentiously-named TCC (The Coffee Connoisseur) outlet at Clarke Quay is open till 2 am on weekends for those late-night coffee-and-dessert cravings.

13. Your car insurance goes down and your payments go up.

No car = no car insurance! Hooray! Though we still miss our Buttercup on occasion.

14. You feed your dog Science Diet instead of McDonalds leftovers.

We have a cat and feed it Felidae. Fortunately for us, he seems completely uninterested in human food, so we don't have to fend him off every time one of us sits down with a snack (McDonald's leftovers or otherwise).

15. Sleeping on the couch makes your back hurt.

Obviously, you haven't met my couch. It's the perfect couch for sleeping in! The only time either of us get a backache is if the aforementioned cat insists on having space of his own, which then squishes us into a funny sleeping position.

16. You no longer take naps from noon to 6 PM.

Does the occasional weekend 3-7 pm nap count?

17. Dinner and a movie is the whole date instead of the beginning of one.

Actually, dinner is the whole date. Terz doesn't like going to the movies here --- too much asshattery going on.

18. Eating a basket of chicken wings at 3 AM would severely upset, rather than settle your stomach.

Probably, yes. Especially if they're Popeye's.

19. You go to the drug store for ibuprofen and antacid, not condoms and pregnancy tests.

I think I have fewer headaches and stomach upsets now than I used to when I was in college.

20. A $4.00 bottle of wine is no longer "pretty good stuff".

I live in Singapore. No such thing as a $4 bottle of wine.

I admit that I try not to buy any bottle that retails for less than $20 here though.

21. You actually eat breakfast food at breakfast time.

I suppose this means not having refrigerator-cold leftover pizza for breakfast, which I've never liked. I've always liked breakfast food, though for quite a few years in university and the years thereafter, I didn't eat breakfast at all. Now I down coffee at such a rate that I feel like I'm back in my early twenties again.

22. "I just can't drink the way I used to," replaces, "I'm never going to drink that much again."

Tell me about it!

23. 90% of the time you spend in front of a computer is for real work.

Aw man.

24. You drink at home to save money before going to a bar.

No, but that's also because I usually go straight to the bar from work.

25. You read this entire list looking desperately for one sign that doesn't apply to you and can't find one to save your sorry old ass.

Hey, I found plenty!

This was not designed to be a meme, but there's nothing stopping you from turning it into one if you're in need of blog fodder.


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You were my Yoda!

So I finally sat down and watched Revenge of the Sith in its entirety tonight.

And man, it really is that bad. Good thing I had beer, a wicked sense of humour and Terz's interjections to keep things lively.


Related posts: You know what really bugs me?, A long, long time ago

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I, me & myself

Alright, I take back what I said about goodbusy.

This afternoon, I decided I needed a time-out, so I took the night off, even though I'll pay for it this weekend. Didn't feel up to socialising either, so while Terz is making his weekly Wala Wala/UnXpected pilgrimage, at home there's just me, the cat, a couple of bottles of Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit and several chick flicks.

Contrived as it is, the ending of Notting Hill gets me every time, you know?


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The most inane meme ever

This is what comes of chatting online with Cowboy:
Let's all play a new meme I've invented that tells people what kind of preferences you have in various topics. It's also a way to show how clever you are by inventing little snippets of useless information that convey little information.
And then he tags me to do it. My first thought was: Cheebye. Then I thought I would humour him, since I hardly ever see him anymore these days.
  1. I'd rather be Wonder Woman than Supergirl (classic comic book heroines).
  2. I'd rather be black coffee than Coke Light (beverages).
  3. I'd rather be Canada than the United States (countries and their dominant cultures).
  4. I'd rather be a hummingbird than an eagle (birds).
  5. I'd rather be Anthony Bourdain than Kylie Kwong (celebrity cook types).
Tag! You guys go figure out your own categories:
  1. Terz
  2. Yuhui
  3. Nardac
  4. cour marly
  5. trisha

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For all you West Wing fans out there

(Yes, yes, I know that the TV show's been cancelled, but some of us are still working our way through the later seasons on DVD.)

So how much does a White House staffer make? The National Journal will be happy to tell you , at least for Bush's current administration (via By The Way).

It seems that the salaries are "largely controlled at the discretion of the president", which makes me wonder if President Bartlet was as generous, seeing as Josh says his "government salary may not be a lot" (see "Isaac and Ishmael").

Interestingly, the report also says, "The White House is not required by law to make public any complete accounting of staff or individual salaries." Which doesn't quite gel with the season 3 plot point, when it's claimed that the White House has to submit its annual list of assistant salaries to a postal and treasury subcommittee and "it traditionally gets leaked by the opposition party" (see "The Black Vera Wang").

Incidentally, the US President's salary is mandated by law and he makes US$400,000 a year. The Singapore Prime Minister? US$1.1 million (as at July 2000).


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A mini modern media miracle

The season finale of the latest season of The Amazing Race aired two Thursdays ago.

Terz watched it before he left on his vacation to Japan.

I only watched it tonight.

And yet, despite going about my life as usual in our delightfully media-saturated world, I managed to avoid being spoilered as to who won the race, although I did inadvertently find out one of the two teams that didn't win.

Not bad, not bad at all.


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Home alone

All I'm saying is that it's fitting that the first full episode I watch out of my new Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Chosen Collection is "Once More, With Feeling".

Particularly everything from the song "Walk Through The Fire" till the end.


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Codes of behaviour

The question I've encountered most commonly lately is, "Are you going to see The Da Vinci Code?" To which my typical response is to roll my eyes.

No, I haven't read the book either. Yeah, I'm a literary snob --- though an erratic one, which means I'll admit to enjoying the first Bridget Jones's Diary but there's something about the whole book-reading market's love affair with Dan Brown that makes me not want to touch it with a twenty-foot pole.

But I didn't quite expect it to come down to this:
The censorship board [of Singapore] gave the movie an NC16 rating, barring viewers under 16, arguing that "only a mature audience will be able to discern and differentiate between fact and fiction."
So the censorship board of our world-class, first world country, is on record as opining that one who reaches the magical age of 16 then magically matures, mastering overnight the very difficult task of differentiating between fact and fiction --- which makes me wonder what the censorship board thinks our children and teenagers are doing everyday when they watch The O.C. or whatever popular Nickelodeon cartoon is on. Or, for that matter, when they watch or read the local news.

Which makes me wonder if the censorship board thinks that Singapore cinema audiences, brought up on a steady diet of overwhelmingly melodramatic Hollywood and Hong Kong films (and, increasingly, Korean ones), have trouble recognising that they're mostly watching fiction and not fact, and need to be safely guided to see what's what.

Which makes me wonder, if they think we're that stupid, why don't they simply have a ticker-tape running below the Chinese subtitles of any film, reminding viewers that, "The story you are watching is fiction. F-I-C-T-I-O-N. It is not real. People don't live like this in the real world."

If I were under the age of 16, I'd be insulted. For that matter, I'm insulted on their behalf.


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Technically not a reader request, but ...

So when I said I was making it Reader Request Week, I wasn't thinking of memes. Blame this on Little Miss Drinkalot then.

Seven dreams before death:
(I assume this means seven Really Great Things I'd like to do before I die, as opposed to seven dreams I've had slash hoped to have before I die.)
1. Spend a few months living on the northern Oregon coast.
2. Write one good novel.
3. Write the family story, if only for myself.
4. Run a bookstore-with-a-cafe (Stellou, are you paying attention?) --- nothing too big or pretentious, just a cosy nook with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and tasty coffee.
5. Speak another language with reasonably fluency (French or Japanese seem to be the most likely candidates at the moment).
6. Have a kid who enjoys reading.
7. Perhaps I should aim to do something remarkable that doesn't have anything to do with reading or books ...

Seven things I can’t do in this lifetime:
1. Draw anything more complicated than a stick figure or a simple map.
2. Figure out complex numbers.
3. Work for the UN.
4. Keep a room or apartment perfectly clean and tidy for more than three days.
5. Live alone.
6. Watch a horror movie.
7. Bungee jump.

Seven things that attract me:
1. The ever-important sense of humour.
2. An healthy sense of irony.
3. An independent spirit.
4. Enough self-esteem not to sweat the small things, but not so much that it becomes overweening arrogance. It's a fine line to walk, people.
5. An open mind.
6. Plain simple kindness and decency.
7. The good sense not to pay too much attention to lists like these because how can you reduce something as complex as attractiveness to just seven things anyway?

Seven things I say:
1. Wah ...
2. Wah lau (which translates literally as "oh, penis" okay, Terz informs me it's really "oh, father", which doesn't seem like a very nice thing to say but colloquially, it really is the most appropriate exclamation of choice most of the time)
3. What's the plan for dinner? (Almost everyday, to Terz)
4. Inky-dinky-poooooooooh (Almost everyday, to Ink)
5. Argh.
6. Can.
7. Very full, very full (typically after any meal)

Seven books that I love:
1. The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy
2. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
3. Emily Climbs, L.M. Montgomery
4. Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood
5. The Lady and the Monk, Pico Iyer
6. Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
7. Down Under, Bill Bryson

Seven movies that I’ve loved:
1. The original Star Wars trilogy
2. Before Sunrise/Before Sunset
3. Serenity
4. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
5. Roman Holiday
6. The Sound of Music (though I haven't seen it in years)
7. Dogma

Seven tags:
Nah. I'll pass.

Compare my responses to that other 7- meme.


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Listening to Singapore

Full disclaimer: I saw Singapore GaGa on Monday night in a blogger-only private screening (first time in Singapore media history!). However, it's not like they're paying me to say nice things or anything. I liked the film and I'm going to bring my parents to see it. You should too.

Watching Tan Pin Pin's Singapore GaGa is like tuning in momentarily to all the background noises of the city that we seasoned urbanites are used to ignoring or blocking out altogether in our daily lives. For 55 minutes, the frequency changes, and all those things at the edge of our aural awareness swell into focus: from street buskers and racuous children, to musicians and music-makers that perhaps the ordinary Singaporean wouldn't encounter up close.

Pin Pin calls it a documentary, but this one doesn't need a narrator; the city narrates itself. Happily, it's not a production that sets out to define Singapore, and happily it evades all the definitions that would be imposed on it by The Powers That Be. You won't find cultural tokenism here, or jingoistic tableaux --- except for, well, see it for yourself.

No, relying on her own musings and observations, Pin Pin's woven together a soundscape that's at once so familiar, yet tells you something you didn't quite expect about the city. And always softly, subtly, respectfully.

I last saw Pin Pin at a NUS forum (webcast available) in December on the veracity of the Discovery Channel's three-hour pseudo-epic The History of Singapore. I remember thinking then, after I'd seen some of that programme, that for all that it aspired to be The Definitive Documentary About Singapore, the Singaporean was strangly absent from it.

In Singapore GaGa, the Singaporean is everywhere, and the Singaporean voice that Pin Pin's found chatters disarmingly from start to finish. "Singapore as you've never heard it before," I chimed glibly at the film's conclusion, but that's not it either. More like, Singapore as you've maybe not paused to notice it before.

Teng Qian Xi, the film's publicist, describes it as at once avant-garde, yet family-friendly and accessible. The word "charming" also seems to have cropped up frequently. Maybe they're trying to say it's unpretentious and sincere (both of which it is). But I don't know about "charming" because that seems to dangerously pigeonhole the film, potentially in the Uniquely Singapore mould, when what it does it is more than charm.

It engages. It finds a story and tells it. If you live here, maybe it makes you feel just that little bit guilty for being constantly jacked into your iPod or cellphone, and not letting the city speak to you. And in the end, it's neither more nor less than what it claims to be --- that is to say, one person's story of this city.

Which is why, I think, it works. Listen for yourself.


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Saturday night

Nothing calms the unsettled soul like a little Serenity.

Well, that and a little late-night bak kut teh (herbal pork rib soup).

Supper - A Portrait #1 Supper - A Portrait #2 Supper - A Portrait #3 Supper - A Portrait #4


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Just for V-Day

We don't do V-Day, but if you do and you like classic Star Wars, you might want to take a look at Something Awful's A Very Star Wars Valentines (link via Boing Boing).

Oh all right, this entry is just an excuse to link naif aka Alfian bin Sa'at's short story in ten parts, "This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary". The best love story I've read recently.

This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary (Part 1)
This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary (Part 2)
This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary (Part 3)
This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary (Part 4)
This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary (Part 5)
This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary (Part 6)
This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary (Part 7)
This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary (Part 8)
This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary (Part 9)
This Was Where: Weilong and Derrick: A Topographic Diary (Part 10)


Related posts: The Straits Times asks, I answer, Getting into the spirit

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Would you watch this?

In a completely unscientific poll of some of my friends and acquaintances in Singapore, I can't find a single straight guy who's willing to watch Brokeback Mountain. The most common reason proffered is a reluctance to watch a gay relationship between men portrayed onscreen.

I'm ... surprised, to say the least. This is a biased sample of my friends and acquaintances, after all.

* * *

The first time I saw gay men kiss onscreen was in the movie Jeffrey, which someone rented at some point in my college years. I don't actually remember anything of the movie now. But without fanfare, hullabaloo or anything remotely resembling an epiphany, it normalised for me the sight of kissing between men.

The first time I read about love and sex between gay men with the same intensity we've grown to accept and even expect in heterosexual couples, was in the Alan Hollinghurst novel The Swimming Pool Library, which I read a few years ago. In my review of books read in 2003, I described Hollinghurst as "a good fiction writer, not just a good gay fiction writer", because that distinction was (and is) important to me. To pigeonhole him as a good gay writer --- or, for that matter, to pigeonhole anyone as a good insert-your-ethnicity-/nationality-/minority-of-choice writer --- would be to imply that what Hollinghurst had to say only mattered to a gay readership or as a portrayal of gay relationships.

But his stories have universal resonance regardless of a reader's sexuality, just as good writing in a language other than English or from a country outside of Asia can have universal resonance for me (as long as it's translated into English, that is). Hollinghurst's descriptions of what gay men can feel for each other were an eye-opener, not because I didn't expect men to have such feelings for each other, but because I didn't expect myself, upon my first encounter with gay fiction, to so easily disregard the characters' genders to read about those feelings.

Is it easier in our culture for me, as a woman, to accept images of homosexuality because it doesn't threaten me? That's what conventional wisdom would have us believe, anyway. Images of women kissing have become fetishized to titillate the male libido, so it doesn't matter whether it's lesbians or women doing it for a lark, à la Madonna-Britney-Christina. Images of men kissing, on the other hand ...

Yet, it's important. Is it acceptable today to declare disgust at seeing people of different races exchange kisses, or people from different classes? How about if one finds abhorrent the image of a woman depicted in a position of power? And at what point does discomfort become so strong that it manifests itself, outwardly or not, in discrimination, prejudice and a complete lack of understanding of the Other?

Of course I'm not insisting that everyone watch Brokeback Mountain because they will then magically get over their discomfort, if any, at watching men kissing. In my ideal world, people have a choice about what they want to watch and are given enough information about what's available, so that they can decide for themselves whether they wish to see a particular programme or film.

On that note, here's my second readers' poll, then: Would you watch Brokeback Mountain?

In responding, please indicate your gender and sexuality. As always, feel free to append additional remarks and witticisms.


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