Friday, December 25, 2009

Innocence of Times Past

What do we remember of our childhood? It is most interesting how you will always learn new things about what you were as a child from your parents as we grow up and yet wonder why we could hardly remember that particular incident.

Recently, my mum reminded me of a wonderful habit I've always had when I was a child. Whenever we return home after an outing, the first thing I would do would be to recount and thank my mum for bringing me to all the different places as well as purchasing different things in chronological order. This, according to her, certainly brought a smile to her face.

Frankly, I have no recollection whatsoever of such a habit. But what's more important is what I realised upon reflecting on this little habit of mine in contrast to the life I'm experiencing now. It is amazing how easy it was for me to say thank you with such sincerity. The innocence of my youth is coupled with an intrinsic wisdom to truly appreciate only the good things that truly matter in life.

In contrast, we adults are more hesitant on such matters and evoke a sorry excuse of the complexity of an adult world. Yet, in this sorry state we are in, we often pile up so much frustration and nonsense in our lives that we always miss the point. In this tangled mess, we drift from our friends, our families and adopt a most pessimistic view of life and everything else.

This Christmas, let us adopt the heart of a child and be active in appreciating our family, friends, loved ones and all the great things that matter in our lives.

Then he said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and whoever receives a little child like this in my name receives me."

~ Matthew 18:3-5




Friday, December 11, 2009

An Education

From time to time, we pick up a book not to entertain ourselves but to recieve an education. For me, that book was It Doesn't Take a Genius: Five Truths to Inspire Success in Every Student by Randall MCcutcheon and Tommie Lindsey.

While it is a reference material for teachers to help them bring out the best in their students, it is also a lesson for myself for it compels me to reflect upon my life so far. It was a fanstastic journey reading the whole book in four days as I got to look myself in the hypothetical mirror and revisit certain lessons that some of the greatest teachers in my life have taught me. A tool for personal reflection as well as a trip down memory lane makes this book an absolute treat!

For those who havent read the book, I shall not divulge too much of its contents (that's because I really want you guys to read it) but I'll do a quick summary of the five truths and some of the interesting lessons I've learnt from it and how it features in my life. (A teaser plus something personal for you guys to know me better!)


First Truth: Be The First Believer

This section talks about how teachers must believe that every student is unique and it is this belief that will carry a student through despite how impossible it seems. It features various instances in which the authors stick to their beliefs about the student's ability and potential and they managed to achieve something that seemed improbable at the beginning.

How often do we find ourselves having big dreams only to be deflated by cynics or the lack of people who are willing to support you or guide you? How many times do we find ourselves speaking to someone with a polite smile whenever they talk of their aspirations? Do we truly support the group of people that we call them friends?

Sometimes, being there and believing truly means a lot. It can be a great source of strength for anyone on this confusing journey of life and something good often turns out of it. Being the first believer takes far more than saying 'I believe'. It takes every part of you to believe with utmost sincerity. Even little action of consideration goes a long way. For example, if someone tells you he wants to be a professional singer in future, just steering clear, giving him a conducive and peaceful environment while tolerating his initial screeching is a clear example of being a believer than just paying lip service.

As such, I would like to say a big Thank You to all those who believed in me. This is especially to my teachers (Mdm Annie Yong, Mrs. Geetha Creffield) who believed I could achieve before I knew for sure.


Second Truth: Class is Never Dismissed

We have always heard of the phrase life-long learning but we always forget that to learn for a lifetime, there must be someone who teaches for a lifetime! The teaching and learning never stops and all teachers must be mindful of that. This is a call for teachers to be more than just a source of guidance in the field of academics but to be the moral compass of the students. It also speaks about expecting the best of your students in order for them to improve. I particularly love the lesson about how to be champions, one must act like one and be the bigger man or woman.

Through the process of learning, we do deal with lessons about love, life and everything else. There are definitely many instances that will remain etched in my mind forever and so I've got to thank Mr. Francis Liew and Gerard Sebastian Raj for one of the best lessons about life. As promised, I shall relate to you a story that taught me about trusting and loving the people you work with in order for a successful collaboration to occur.

It was at the end of my end-year production for Arabian Nights when I was in J1. I wrote to Raj to thank him for all his patience in teaching us the dance and I apologised profusely for being rather slow in learning it which would definitely be a source of frustration for any choreographer. What was totally unexpected was the fact that he replied saying that I was never a source of frustration. In fact, he appreciates me trusting him and his craft and that is what is really needed by a choreographer from his dancers. That note certainly spurred me on to persist despite how difficult the dance is and what a performative career I had during my JC days!


Third Truth: Words Seldom Fail You
This section has more to do about academics than anything. It talks about the power of words and how it does affect students. The need to cure students of aliteracy and bring back the joys of reading. Additionally, it does offer some tips and advice to help improve students' speaking skills.

I've always been in love with words all my life and it is only now that I get to savour how great an impact words can have on people. For that, I have to thank my mum for this for she cultivated a love for reading in me albeit due to achieving a more practical benefit. When I was young and I travel with my mum on public transport, she'll often shove me a book to read throughout the journey. While it was an undeniable attempt to keep me quiet during the journey, this expedient gesture did work. Yet, to be fair, my mum does have a love for reading and she does believe in a good education. Therefore, it was a clever ploy on her part to kill two birds with one stone.

Aside from appreciating literature, the power of words does play in my personal life. I am always enamoured of sincerity and do relish some of the things and exchanges that I shared with various friends. Those things that they say to me will stay with me forevermore. I love you guys!

Fourth Truth: Writer Blocks But Rarely Tackle
This is a practical section that offers some wisdom to overcome writer's block. It is certainly interesting to see how different writers draw inspiration for writing. Yet, one of the sobering message of this section would be that great ideas need to be worked on and not by waiting for the proverbial muse. Useful tips such as doing research or approaching the experts directly for the content in your writing will certainly serve its purpose in future.

Fifth Truth: Pay Your Do's
This last truth just about rounds up all the principles in this book: Loving, Attending, Association, Persisting. (I'm sorry I can't remember all the principles at the top of my head...)
It really speaks about the need to love the people around us. To be truly there for them and to have their back all the way.

Attending speaks of the need to be there and in the moment be it in a debate, giving a speech or just plain communicating with someone. How many times have we heard one another speak but never listened? How many times have we misunderstood each other because we were not there for each other?

Associating speaks of the need to be in a proper and good company. It speaks of having students and children be around people who will guide them and inspire them the right way. As such, I'd always remember the associations I'm around with when I was with ACsian Theatre. Perhaps was is a wrong word, I'd guess I never really left.

Persisting is self-explanatory. But one of the biggest pay-offs in me persisting would be my drama career in JC. I did face a lot of problems and went into uncharted territory which can be absolutely frightening. But I do have to thank Ms. Michelle Wong, Mrs. Geetha Creffield and Gerard Sebastian Raj for being there for me all the way and in their own silent way, urging me never to give up.

Once again, thank you to everyone who have impacted me in everyway and cheers to many more years of learning, love and friendship!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Job Interview

An office of a media company. The office is very well-furnished; a mark of a prestigious company. The interviewer is immaculately dressed while the applicant is simply but neatly dressed. Perhaps, too neatly dressed - as if he were wearing a military uniform rather than office wear. As the curtain opens and the lights come on, the applicant is seated across the table from the interviewer with his bag by the side - signalling that the interview has already begun.

Applicant:
Good Morning, Sir.

Interviewer:
A very Good Morning to you too! Thank you for your interest in a position in our Advertising Department. To start off, could you kindly tell me a little about your background and what drives you in life?

Applicant:
Sure! I come from a modest background and have been living in the heartlands all my life. As such, I've often faced ridicule from my friends who are better off than me. This little tribulation has thus strengthen my resolve to succeed and be the best in whatever I'm doing. Therefore, what drives me in life is a good challenge.

Interviewer:
Very impressive. We're off to a very nice start, aren't we? Now would you allow me to review your education record and previous work experience?

Applicant:
No problem, Sir. (removes a black folder from his bag and hands it to the interviewer)

Interviewer:
Thank you. (takes the folder, opens it and reads it. In the course of reading, he quietly mumbles some of the contents to himself)

Applicant:
As you can see sir, I have done considerably well in my studies and do work well with my peers! On several occasions, I have won many awards for myself! While it may sound like I'm boasting, I'd say, you'll never find a guy like me walking into your office everyday for an interview! (smirks)

Interview:
(nods) Well, I can see that... (turns to the last page of the folder. Reads the contents, furrow his brows, pauses in utter puzzlement)

Applicant:
Is anything the matter, Sir?

Interviewer:
While you have done well during your university days, it says here that you've got a degree in -

Applicant:
B.A. in Physical Education and Sports Science!

Interviewer:
But that has nothing to do with advertising.

Applicant:
I'm aware of that, Sir! But in the job market these days one doesn't necessarily need to have a degree in a field that they are going to work in. Look at the number of law students who decided to ditch the court and open up their own businesses! It all boils down to a steely resolve which I have!

Interviewer:
Are you aware that the position you are applying is to be a Deputy Head of the Advertising Department? (irritated) You need to have some experience in the advertising business itself! Do you know the number of applicants I've turned down who actually have a good degree in Mass Communications but have no experience! (anger builds) Are you even aware that this post requires you to head a team of about 100 in our projects! We are a prestigious media company and is unmatched everywhere in this country! We have no time to train any rookies like you even for a middle management post... let alone a top management position! What in the world made you apply for this interview in the first place!!!

Applicant:
Well Sir, I'm different! That's because I went through nine months of HELL in order to graduate! Do you know how much we were physically tortured with an utter lack of sleep, countless number of physical exercises and verbal abuse we have suffered? Only the best can endure through it! Do you know that 300 people graduated from that HELLISH bootcamp! Let me remind you sir, that it was NINE MONTHS!! Based on that Sir, I am damn well qualified for the job and I deserve all the respect I get. Therefore, you raising your voice is utterly inappropriate!

Interviewer:
GET THE HELL OUT OF MY OFFICE! Oh... and F.Y.I... I HAVE ONE BROTHER, A COUSIN AND TWO NEPHEWS WHO PASSED OUT OF THAT STUPID BOOTCAMP OF YOURS! SO YOU AIN'T THAT GREAT. NOW GET YOUR ASS OUT OF MY OFFICE!!!!

Curtains Close.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My gentle readers,

I do hope you enjoyed this little piece of scribble. While the whole thing seems incredulous, I'm sure some fellas out there have come across similar occurrences once in your life?

Thank you for taking your time to read it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dear Diary

"What is it about people and them keeping diaries?" quizzed my friend to a table full of guys who were generally disinterested in the question as they cook up a few non-committal speculations. After everyone chipped in their two cents worth of the subject, their heads turned towards me as they expect me to contribute to the discussion before we can proceed to another topic. Instead, I lowered my head and concentrated on my food; knowing full well that I'm the only one out of the group of four who actually does keep a diary of sorts and throwing in my chips will result in a further interrogation of why I jot down my thoughts.

But it is a good question: why do we need to collect our innermost thoughts? Do we ever write bearing in mind that it will get read by someone other than oneself? While I am not in a position to say for the others who do keep a diary or jot their thoughts down, I have no doubt that there are quite a few out there who will share the same reasons as me.

For one, the impetus to jot down my thoughts definitely stems from the innate need to express oneself in the most uninhibited way. While I value individualism as well as personal space, I do believe that we are not created to be in total isolation. That perfectly explains why since time immemorial, Man has a universal tradition of handing down stories and values to the next generation through cave paintings and the aural tradition. While indulging in this rather private affair does not share the same vein as cave painting, I guess it is an interaction with my future self.

In this interaction with my future self, I guess this self-expression is also cathartic as I spell out my feelings in some form of a rational capacity. It does preserve my sanity and calms me down at times. The process of documenting my thoughts imposes everything around me to slow down and time does not exist as I take whatever I need to write all my thoughts out. Thus, calming me down as I slip into more of a meditative mood. On the other extreme, in the event of experiencing rage, writing gives a sense of clarity to my anger. While this clarity does not dispel the brunt of my anger or its negative energy, it seems to convert it into something more productive or beneficial to me. Odd as it sounds, but there are times when I'm able to write and compose fluently in a fit of anger or perhaps create a rough sketch of something that I will undertake and develop later on. Hence, keeping this online diary seems to help me tap my emotions in a most powerful way.

At the end of the day, despite how many or how good our friends are, there are certain lines that have to be drawn. As much as we like to, we do not tell everything to even the closest of our friends for various reasons. Therefore, the diary, or in my case, the random scraps of paper that I write my thoughts on from time to time is our confidante. In this respect, it does not serve to benefit me fully. Re-reading what I wrote only has a limited effect of easing the burden inside what it comes to the need to really tell someone and having that person's opinion. This proves that inter-human relationship is still important in our isolated world of Skype, Twitter and MSN where real human interaction does not truly exist. I do wish that there is someone in which I can confide in them about EVERYTHING and they will understand despite having their own judgements and reservations. Perhaps I'm asking too much... perhaps we all just need to give a little love to make it happen.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Old Works

I often wonder why I have stopped writing poems. It is as if the poetic muse have just left me totally. Anyway, I was re-looking at my old poems and I really wonder how I managed to write then.. Here are some of my favs...

Yearnings

(I)

At dawn's breath
I went to the meadows;
accompanied by the gay of yester-shadows.
Each step forward,
less of a gay the shadows be,
Each step forward,
how long before I have thee?


(II)

Standing by the window
on a moonless night,
A comforting breeze blows,
as I think of you.
Silence wreaks throught the air;
only to be destroyed by the crickets.
So do my thoughts;
as I think of you.


(III)

A dreary morn I wake;
to find the sun sagging as
he reflects the frost-bitten pavement of winter's dusk.
I dragged my feet on the deserted street;
for no rhytmic beat was present;
upon the streets of pristine snow.

No song did the lark sing,
for no joy did winter bring.

I yearn for the oncoming summer;
whose smiles is warm like yours
and whose joy radiates into celestial realms.

So come quickly, my lovely summer.
For one's embrace warms the yearning heart.




Bark Scratching

In the months of the monsoonal rains,
I hear the cacophony created by these little beings pelting against my window sill.
A petit being I was, as I peered out of my doorway with aching pains,
Making sure the house is still,
I trod along the moisten path and lay bare upon the moist-smitten trees.


Scratching on the dark, rocky barks,
I lay myself in fervent stark,
Till I was weary,
I sat upon the dreary
Roots of that old tree
Thinking that I’ll be free
And wondering will anyone see
My scratching on that old, dark tree.





Well.. tell me what you think!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Days of Wellness

The motto of the Singapore Sun Festival, which ended recently on 12 October, is the art of living well. I'm glad that I was able be part of it quite a fair bit as I did enjoy myself in engaging in literature workshops by local playwright, Alfian Sa'at, and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. Additionally, the concert by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra with James Galway as a guest performer was a treat to the ears as well as a good bonding experience with my flute teacher.

As the festival comes to an end, the one thing resonates the loudest with me is the aim of the festival itself. It is a 10-day event that caters to the celebration of life and wellness in terms of intellectual, spiritual as well as the physical. This is done in the form of concerts, workshops and gourmet events. After enjoying the festival, how does one continue to live well?

Taking cue from the festival itself, I guess one should enrich oneself intellectually, physically and spiritually and really take stock of our lives. Personally, I find taking stock of my life a very important step and I struggle with it. This is because while I'm clear that my life is often headed in the wrong direction, I often continue rushing headlong in that direction and I look back at it with disgust. Perhaps, we need a clean break from everything in order to truly look at ourselves in the mirror.

This is why I long for a long break that involves reading, writing, reflection and exercise. If I could just go away to somewhere distant, even if it just means Pulau Ubin rather than the Caribbean, and do all these... perhaps I will be enriched and be able to start life again with a clearer perspective. A typical day of my retreat will probably start like this...

1. Wake up and freshen up
2. Read the Bible
3. Read the news (possibly Time magazine rather than the local newspaper)
4. Go for a 30 min run
5. Bathe and eat (not at the same time of course)
6. Take a one hour nap
7. Read anything of my choice for 30 mins and make notes if necessary
8. Go out and jot down whatever comes to mind
9. Eat
10. Play the flute
11. Repeat no. 7
12. Wind down with some music
13. Eat
14. Review what I have written and perhaps write something about whatever that struck me
15. Repeat. 7
16. Laze around and falling alseep.

Anyone wanna join me???

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Patch Adams

Recently, I was fortunate enough to revisit one of my favourite films, Patch Adams, on television. It is a film which depicts a medical student, Hunter 'Patch' Adams, who possesses the unconventional wisdom to challenge the long-held beliefs of medical care. In his struggles to convince everyone that medical care is not merely a profession but it is also having a relationship with the patients, he experienced many trials and tribulations as he questions about life, love and the ultimate fear of death. He later went on to establish Gesundheit! Institute (www.patchadams.org) that aims to put care, concern and laughter at the heart of healthcare service.

The viewing of this film came at a opportune moment as I felt uplifted from my blues as a result of the strain of the lack of sleep and the weariness of duty that national service imposes on you. I began to ponder on the questions that the films poses on top of its main message. These mind-boggling questions are: What makes you happy?, What are you passionate about?, Is death an end to everything?

What makes you happy?

This is definitely one of the most difficult question of all for the answer often changes with time. As for now, what makes me happiest is being with people I love. While it seems so simple, how many of us can actually do that in this complex day and age?

We are bogged down by so many, and rather unnecessary, responsibilities as we become breathless in trying to juggle so many things; a feat so complex that even the artistes from Cirque Du Soleil would give a standing ovation. In our midst of juggling the hats that we have to put on, how many times do we find ourselves making promises to others to keep in contact or to meet up but never ever bringing it to fruition? How many times do we promise our parents that we will be back for dinner but end up returning home so late that the cold food is eventually thrown away?

Personally, I have never appreciate my friendships and varying relationships with others as much as I have now. I have come to realise that being around the people that I love is the only real and important thing in my life for I don't have to put on any masks or prove to them anything for they know who I am. It seems that having a relationship of any kind is the most self-affirming thing for it proves that one exists because a relationship transcends time, death and space - once formed, it exists eternally even after one dies. This is unlike all other achievements that will be relegated to the archives or be forgotten as time passes and the memory fades.

What are you passionate about?

This is definitely one of the easiest questions ever asked. I am passionate about the Arts though it is unfortunate to say that I am not competent or do not have a fertile understanding in some aspects of it. The Arts (especially in the aspects of theatre, literature and dance) appeals to me because it has this quality to translate the depths and varied qualities of the human experience - something that is universal in all cultures. Such a quality goes beyond any kind of barrier as anyone at any age can relate to.

It is also a very powerful tool to question and espouse a certain condition of our lives. While it is certainly ambitious to state that Art will result in a radical revolution, one cannot deny that Art does leave the viewer/listener/audience a little change and perhaps it could be a platform that compels one to think and question and even improve what is already there. Such a powerful force certainly cannot be explained by any scientific theory.

Is death an end to everything?

No. Death cannot end memories or erode our love for someone in any capacity. As such, death can only put an end to something in the physical capacity.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Army Daze - How Boys Will Not Become Men

I thought it is time for my gentle readers to re-visit a post I wrote a while ago...

The army advertising machine is one of the most well-oiled and efficient system ever devised by man. The slogan , "Where boys become men", has become a mantra on the lips of millions that any advertising company would be over the moon should their slogans for their clients attain such a cult following. Yet, many should understand that a slogan is a mere advertising tool to appeal to the consumers and ensure that they remember a particular product due to its catchy phrase. In other words, it may not necessarily represent the truth and that applies for the army too - it does not make one become a man.

However, a 'man', like any other word, is a subjective concept and it benefits everyone should we stick to a particular definition. Being a man, represents an attainment of maturity, independence, rationality, humanity and morality; one that is able to provide for himself and others materially and emotionally. By that definition, the only semblance of being a man that the army could claim credit for would be bulking up the poor boys who have their lives coming into a screeching halt for two years. The physicality achieved, if the poor boy has any body mass to bulk up with, may offer his girlfriend either a sense of security or a fantasy come true as she is euphoric that she finally has a boyfriend that is as bulky as Hugh Jackman in Australia. Thoughts of her boyfriend washing himself like Jackman in that movie meant that the boy could finally "provide" his for his girlfriend emotionally - albeit in an erotic way.

At this point, most proponents of the slogan would demand that I do not ignore how serving national service is a rite of passage where one acquire survivor skills akin to the tribal initiation rites into adulthood or that it teaches values such as selflessness, cooperation and discipline. In response to that, I will thus address such naivety in two parts; the male initiation rites and the teaching of values.

With regards to the "rite of passage" argument, the person's naivety is revealed in the fact that he or she does not comprehend the significance of the tribal initiation rites but is only mystified by the whole affair. The tribal initiation rites is a spiritual, mental and physical training for the boys in order to equip them with necessary skills to survive and mature. The skill of hunting, outdoor survivor and resourcefulness is much needed in their community in the jungles to survive and in terms of providing for the whole tribe. Therefore, apart from the spiritual aspect which can be gruesome and not relevant in this discussion, these rites truly make boys become men in the sense that they are equip with necessary skills to actually survive. In relation to our urban landscape, if the army really sets out to transform boys to become men, the basic military training will therefore consists of cooking classes, teaching the boys how to clean, iron and sew and personal grooming courses in terms of appearance as well as etiquette. In addition, I believe that we are all equipped with an instinctive will to survive and that should a boy be left alone all by himself in the house where he has to cook, clean and wash his own clothes, I have no doubts that he will learn to acquire those skills and mature naturally as with millions of students who have studied abroad have done.

Furthermore, I can never subscribe to the idea of "breaking the boy to make a man" for it is outright barbarism. Hurling unnecessary insults and abuses during training only makes a boy into a baby where the recruit will learn that the only form of expression is through the use of expletives; relinquishing their ability to articulate their thoughts in a rational fashion. It will reduce communication into an orgy of distasteful utterances like a baby gone wrong. It never brings the willpower out of anyone. For willpower implies the perseverance out of one's own accord to endure whatever adversity one faces. Therefore, forceful imposition undermines this unique quality of the human spirit. This ideology therefore can never be a part of the training as a "rite of passage".

As for how the army teaches one good values, I am utterly disappointed at the parents who are hoping that the military would do their job. Also, I am disappointed at the little faith people have in the human spirit that we are capable of instinctive goodness. Why do one need to depend on the army to be taught such values? What about moral education in religious institutions and schools? Perhaps, the Ministry of Education needs to meet with the advertisers for the army to discuss on how to improve their brand name which results in people putting more faith in Singapore's education.

Aside from that, I would like to scrutinise the myth that military instills discipline. The concept of discipline is certainly severely misunderstood. The illusion of the soldiers marching in unison with precision does not necessarily mean that these soldiers have discipline. Discipline, like all other values, must be exhibited in a spirit of one's own willingness and not be coerced or forced into doing something out of the fear of punishment. True discipline is exhibited when the recruit actually wants to take on a strict regime in the earnest wish of becoming a highly trained soldier that has the ability to protect his country and fellow comrades in a time of war. Therefore, should the soldiers not have this self-willingness and do it any other way, one cannot say that the army has instilled a sense of discipline in them. Otherwise, dogs, slaves and prisoners are masters of discipline by that flawed equation.

As such, the army cannot claim any credit of making boys into men. Like all advertising gimmicks, we must see the product for what it really is and not be lulled into naivety by a catachy phrase - national service is merely a feeble solution to a problem of national security (a topic that must be left for another discussion as it is not directly relevant to this post). Like the recruits in Michael Chiang's hit movie, 'Army Daze', the military advertising machine has cast a fog and puts us in a daze.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tea for Two

It often takes the most mundane and unexpected circumstances to shake you out of your stupor and make you realise what is important and what is real. For me, that lovely circumstance was having tea with Beverly at Foster's today.

I met her only expecting to catch up with her and wishing the very best as she leaves for Boston. Never did I expect that in our conversation she told me a few things that really struck me and really got me thinking of who I am, what am I and what I want to be.

In the midst of our English indulgence, the topic of ancestry, roots and origins came up. She told me about going to the heritage centre in Chinatown just to revisit some of our traditions. Additionally, a meeting with her grandparents early in the day led to the discovery that her family tree is scattered across China and Southeast Asia which certainly surprised her. In that vein, she mentioned of her wish to bring her traditions over to Boston as she remains rooted to who she is and her faith.

On any occasion, I would have let out a chuckle or sorts for I rage against certain aspects of my traditions for its backwardness and hate to confine myself to who I am by such traditions. Well, I am not saying that I totally reject my Chinese roots for I do appreciate its cultural value and its intellectual history but its conservative outlook does not suit me. Also, being a true believer of the Arts, I believe that every artist, in the words of Nobel Laureate Gao XingJian, is a citizen of the world. In my interpretation, we make out to be who we are and we we want to be for the countries and it traditions that we live by are artificial demarcations that we have set upon ourselves.

Yet, it is as if the Camomile tea I was sipping had a calming effect on me as I actually got to think about what she really meant. It is not about being confined by tradition but so much so as a basis of who we are. Like it or not, we are influenced by our roots and our upbringing. In a sense, our origins and culture gives us some integrity of humanity for it is the beginning and our upbringing that is steeped in that culture leads us to the present us and it is for us to decide how our future turns out. If we were to reject every iota of the culture that we are born into, we are thus throwing ourselves into a web of contradictions. This is because we are seeking to define ourselves in our self-created vaccum but the only problem is that our sense of our utopia is a mere modification of the confines the real world. Hence, this new definition of us still stems from our tradition and culture.

So how do I synthesise what I have believed for so long with this new found outlook? Well, I am sure that we seek to define ourselves in the best possible way and if we were to look at different cultures, there is a common thread of goodness in them that is expressed in a variety of ways. They all do espouse a set of universal values which is what Thomas Jefferson would term as Natural Law. Therefore, the self-portrait that I seek to paint would be the same no matter how I do it but the cultures that I take from and adopt are form my pallete and the culture that I am born into forms my inspiration and template. Hence, with the materials in hand, I am at leisure to improve this inspiration and template to complete my masterpiece. But at the end of the day, the first stroke on the canvas to define who I am comes from being Chinese.

Thank you Beverly.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Access Denied - A Promising Beginning

A review of Canvas! first production, Access Denied, cannot begin without expressing my admiration of the ambition of the producer as well as the boldness of the actors on embarking this project for it is a journey into uncharted waters for them. While, it is undeniable that I did have certain reservations with regards to an original production in all sense of the word, I am glad to admit how unfounded such reservations are.

In all honesty, Access Denied will not make it to Broadway or the West End. Its writing will not be earning 'Best Original Script' any time soon. But it is an early sketch of a portrait - a blatant reflection of human relationship. Something that we still need or perhaps smile quietly to ourselves as we passively identify ourselves with the characters. This is best summed up by Kester saying, 'It's like going through life...' This venture may be a sketchy impression of something profound.

Its format has some semblances to Alan Bennett's Talking Heads in which it consists of a series of monologues, with a slight departure as there are a few brief moments of interaction between the characters, that reveal different shades of human life. In particular, it reveals the different kinds of relationship and scenarios that we experience in giving ourselves to another. Inevitably, constructing a play in such a fashion does have its pros and cons.

For starters, having four characters delivering their personal monologues one after another can be daunting on the audience. This is due to the fact that the monologue is delivered in a confined space which limits the possibilities of blocking. This thus forces the audience to draw on the lines to keep up with the progress of the play and try to grasp the message of the playwright(s) - in this case, the actors are collaboratively involved in writing the script. Aside from this flaw, the format does allow the four characters to be developed fully. In addition, it clearly demarcates four motifs that are evident in the distinct personalities and storyline of the characters.

The four characters experience different kinds of love: Unrequited Love (Charmaine Poh), "Forbidden" Love (Mark Cheng), Loveless Union (Ng Yin Ling), Love Gone Wrong (Lesley Sia)

As a caveat, do note that such a categorisation is entirely out of my own devising and not set by anyone involved in the production. I have taken the such liberties to aid my readers in understanding what the respective monologues entail and it is not the actual title given to any of the characters. To those involved in the production, my sincere apologies that I did not manage to catch all the names of the characters, so it would be easier if I just name the actors. Additionally, if my categorisation is found to be inaccurate, once again I apologise. If that is the case, perhaps one can take it as a perception of one of the members in the audience.


Unrequited Love - Charmaine Poh

In terms of content, what characterises this set of monologues is the poetry of the lines which describes the physicality and behaviour of the character's beau at that time. It aptly emphasises how she cherishes every moment she spends with her man. The beauty of the lines were helpful to any actor as Charmaine portrayed her character well. The painful contemplation and the search for answers as to how could her lover just leave her and hurt her so badly was heart-wrenching to watch. The metaphor of letters in which one often sees her reading it or writing it is a beautiful image in trying to connect with her beau and deal with her pain.

Performatively, what sealed the deal for me was the sense of purity and truthfulness in the portrayal of the character. Underneath the beauty of the lines, that raw feeling of anguish and hurt, that came from Charmaine, was certainly impactful. I sank to a new low when she performed her final monologue when you could actually see her eyes becoming slightly moist and teary as she struggles with her feelings. It really makes one hope that no one should be subjected to such pain and hurt - something that does kill the spirit a little.

Unfortunately, I felt that Charmaine was slightly lacking in the energy in her delivery which resulted in the other actors overpowering her and as an overall trajectory of the play, there always seem to be a drop in energy whenever her monologue comes on. To be fair, this may not be exactly her fault due to the fact that her character that she portrays is of a passive nature as compared to the powerful one that Mark portrays. Also, she does not have much of an outburst in her lines as can be found in Lesley's lines. Therefore, it does appear as if Charmaine lacks the performative energy which is not exactly the case here.

In conjunction to that, Charmaine's character seems to be a departure to the overall pattern that the other characters have established. Her character does not have a clear progression of plot as it is concretely evident in the other characters. This is not to say that the character's nostalgic, almost surreal recollection is a weak idea but such a structure seemed to place this character out of sync due to the fact that the plot in the other monologues progresses steadily everytime the character comes on. As such, this inconsistency in conjunction with the passive nature of the character mars Charmaine's overall impact on the audience. This is definitely a pity.


"Forbidden" Love - Mark Cheng

Puuurrrr! Mark and his character were certainly a racket as the monologues got us hopping out of our seats due to the humourous moments or the poignant moments as we are forced out of our comfort zones to contemplate these important questions - Is homosexuality taboo? What is considered "normal" in society? How much do we have to conform to society's ridiculous ideals?

Mark's set of monologues truly captured the different aspects there is to be a homosexual in a society that is still judgmental and condescending. This is bolstered by lines that were well written as it seeks to explore the never-ending and sometimes humourous attempts to hide one's sexual orientation as well as the poignancy of it all that in the face of societal pressures, one sometimes unwittingly betrays oneself and assume a certain mould and therefore rejecting true love. I certainly applaud how it does not seek to lash out at society's judgments and prejudices. Instead, it just seek to present a man not being able to love fully and truly due to happenstance.

Mark is certainly a ball of energy with a sense of good showmanship as he easily manipulates the comic timing as well as presenting a myriad of reactions to life's challenging but hilarious circumstances much at the expense of our aching sides as a result of laughing too hard. Yet, as his monologues wind down to the poignant moments, there is a sense of maturity that comes across clearly as we see the layers of the character's personality in his struggle between assuring his lover that he truly loves him and that his wife is only for show. The scene in which he recounts the encounter with the beggar which resulted in him giving the beggar some cash is certainly impactful. This signifies that his character has occupied the mould that society has set for him as he offers money out of a sense of detached sympathy. By extension, he has come to accept what society has defined as being normal. The impact of the lines and the acting is profound so much so that at the time of writing, in revisiting his performance, I have to restrain myself from jotting down my opinions on this issue as it is only suitable for another post on another occasion. Perhaps such an impact is a testament to the fact that the actor is informed in his portrayal of the character.

Perhaps, the only bone I have to pick is the fact that Mark's character is always seen holding business documents and taking phone calls. This physical motif could actually be developed further than just to signify his occupation as a business man. It could be used to strengthen the theme of being bound by societal norms as with how one is being bound by a contract once a business deal is signed. The idea of the contract of love could be embedded into his monologue as his character claims that him marrying a woman is only for show and therefore a transaction with society. While his love for Edward is real and perhaps his love for his wife is transactional, one simply cannot ignore the fact that he is bonded by a contract and have to fulfill its conditions which actually drives a wedge between him and Edward. This would eventually amount to rejecting true love in the face and thus results in Edward leaving him and question his inherent acceptance of societal norms. Such a metaphor would throw his struggle into sharper relief as the corporate savvy audience of today would be able to grasp the comparison.


Loveless Union - Ng Yin Ling

How often have we heard that marriage is the tombstone of love? Well, that is exactly what Yin Ling's character encapsulates. Her frazzled hair and scrunched up corporate blouse was a convincing sight of a modern woman facing up to the jaded realities of life as she does her bit for the household and takes each day as it comes.

The extinguished flame of passion can never be more evident in her lines which is only focusd on her children and the growing up in the beginning. Towards the end, she begins to unravel the coldness between her husband and herself as she resorted to seeking sexual advice online but never cling upon them. The idea of seeking advice from an inanimate medium on something so sacred is certainly poignant - a sheer testament to how we have lost control of our lives as we get caught up with so many things.

Yin Ling did a credible job of portraying this jaded woman and had a wonderful arch in her performance as she unravels progressively. There is almost nothing to pick on in this case except that there could be more layers to this character than her just being jaded with life. This is especially so in view of the fact that a dead marriage is such a common theme that it borders on being cliche.



Love Gone Wrong - Lesley Sia

What started out as a movie loving girl suffering from a common case of puppy love turned out to be a struggle to find one's identity in the face of others and the need to reassert it in the face of a failed relationship. Her initial musings about finding the perfect match that mirrors the likes of the various Disney princesses turns out to be an illusion as she falls for a less than perfect prince charming who is actually the typical bad boy. Despite not being able to fulfill her Disney dream, she was in utter bliss. As the relationship goes on, it begins to dawn on her how uncontrollably wrong it is heading as it departs further and further away from the expected plot of a great love story - the sheer unpredictability of life. Towards the end, as she begins to feel inferior when her boyfriend leaves her for another girl which received a form of approval from his friends which she did not, she begins to reassert herself as a beautiful person and that she will not falter for this guy whom have taken every advantage of her.

By far, Lesley's character has the greatest veracity and it is an utter treat to watch Lesley moving from blissful happiness to despair with relative ease and craftsmanship. In the initial stages, her youthful and girly vigour in her musings certainly brings a smile to anyone as we remember our own romantic fantasies when we were younger. As her monologues progesses, there is an overwhelming sense of poignancy and maturity that animates from her. The vast difference between her earlier monologues as compared to her latter ones, which is filled with intensity and energy, is certainly astounding and a testament to her vesitility as an actress.
This is especially evident in a couple of her monologues in which she relates being sexually harrassed and her despair and bitterness in the aftermath as she hates herself for not doing anything about it. The intensity, energy and earnesty in dealing with her boyfriend molesting her, leaving her and the seeming disapproval of his friends certainly broke my heart and a sense of sympathy and sadness came over me as if the character is truly confiding in me.

While I do appreciate the energy and intensity, there are times when Lesley seems to upkeep the intensity by accelerating her monologue and delivering it in an extremely heated way. This slight falter in the performance condenses the character and her experience. Instead, a thoughtful choice of pauses and really let what the character says sink into the audience rather than presenting her anger and bitterness would be more impactful. However, to be fair, it is indeed exciting to watch Lesley as with the other actors.
On a more personal note, it is amazing to see how much the actors have improved and mature performatively. The whole production is a considerable success with certain compelling themes that leaves the audience to identify with and know that love is an inevitable part of the human experience.
One can only wish them the very best for their future endeavours and hope that a future collaboration is in order....

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sweet Little Things

In trying to find meaningful ways to spend time in camp, my camp mates and I decided to start a conversation in the hopes of finding out more about each other. Soon enough, we found ourselves inevitably comparing the cultures of our schools as I had to debunk certain myths that surrounds AC.

In the course of relating certain events that my school has organised, something deep struck me. As I think back on all the little and silly things my school does on events such as Valentine's or April Fools, there is this overwhelming mix of nostalgia and regret that came over me. I once viewed it as superfluous and a tad bit extravagant for an unofficial cause for celebration. However, as I face the jaded realities of life, I began to appreciate what the school, and whoever that was involved in the planning, had done for us. The thought behind those sweets, flowers, balloons (pink, white, red) and the pranks certainly made our day and disrupting the monotony of school life was always welcomed.

Missing AC this way also led to another realisation- the gem of sincerity. I mean what really touches me about how AC celebrates events, seasons and life is not because of the expense that went into it but how sincerely the Students Council wants to make the day slightly special for everyone. It is not a matter of how you do it or how expensive it is but that you are sincere in doing it. Sincerity is the key for many a times, we often go to the expense of doing something other out of pure obligation which leaves a bitter aftertaste for ourselves. To me, we should rid ourselves of such superficial obligation and go the distance only if we really mean it or else everything is meaningless. On the other side of the coin, we should also stop expecting from people. It is with such mindless expectation that we lead ourselves onto the paths of disappointment. As long as we stay true to ourselves and our friends, people will naturally reciprocate back with gratitude and sincerity and that is all that matters.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

4.48 Psychosis

Kane, through her incoherent composition of rantings and morbid poetry has given us a clearer view of the effects of depression.


It is frightening to think that I actually understand it at some level....


"What do you offer your friends to make them so supportive of you?"


"What do you offer?"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Being Loved and Needed

'It isn't memories that keep us going. Being loved and needed is what keeps us from dying inside.'
~Anne LeClaire, Entering Normal (2001)

Isn't that a profound thought? We do cherish our memories but, at times, clinging onto them makes us stuck in neutral. Yet, this phenomenon in the polemics of our behaviour that occurs when we hang onto a certain memory is a testament to our want to be loved and needed. It is certainly the case for LeClaire's character of Rose Nelson in her book, Entering Normal.

As an exceedingly brief summary, Rose lost her son and fell into a state of depression but it changed when Opal Gates moved into the neighbourhood with her son Zack. Initially, she tries her best to keep a distance from Opal for Zack painfully reminds her of her son, Todd. But in a set of unexpected events, Rose does get involved in helping Opal settle down in this unfamiliar surroundings and even fight to retain custody of her child. Such events eventually led her to realise the moral in the above quote. This led her to come out of her depression and followed Opal back to her own hometown as a support in bringing up Zack for she realised that giving love and receiving it back is what keeps us alive and what keeps us from dying inside.

At a first glance, it seems that someone who would say that suffers from inferiority complex mixed with a touch of depression. But after further consideration, I realised how resonant that line is in our lives. Memories are a precious commodity of our existence - having a recollection of an experience, be it good or bad, makes us who we are and by extension, proves that we exist and matter in this world. While it is important to have a throve of experience, holding onto the past makes us forget the present and an obsessive reluctance to let go of it makes us go into a state of depression. The important question is, what do people often hold on to obsessively and what does this say of ourselves as humans?

We often cling onto memories that makes us feel wanted, loved and happy. How often do we find ourselves remembering a previous love affair, a relative who has passed on or good times we have with a particular friend who is not in contact with us? It is a testament to our inherent want to reach out and love someone as well as to be loved and cared for in return. This want thus 'keeps us from dying inside'. In other words, to be fully human, we seek and give love from and to others. This pure and great gift therefore keeps us going and gives meaning to our lives.


On a personal note, this quote cannot be further from the truth. It is also interesting to note how my longing is more pronounced as I grow older than when I am younger. It seemed as if the more I could rationalise and articulate the depths of my feelings, the stronger my desire to be love and needed is felt. As I think back upon the years that I have lived (it is surprisingly not many but it felt as if I have gone through a lot), I begin to cherish the many roles that people play in my life. How different my life would be without certain people and I begin to see more of their pleasant traits and overlook more of their shortcomings.


In appreciation of these people, I do feel a growing disappointment at myself as I regret not being more sociable and mix with them in my younger years. Perhaps that is why I seem to overcompensate and try my very best to keep abreast of what everyone is doing now. It is amazing how much power such a need has over one. The lonliness of not being able to reach out to others kills me a little and the daunting years of serving NS has made this activity a preoccupation as my friends slip off to university. I have sub-consciously put it as a priority in making my time out of camp as meaningful as possible. However, my attempts has been in vain as my friends are indeed busy and our schedules are incompatible with each other. As such, I do sometimes experience short bouts of mild depression as I feel myself rotting away and my existence is hollow without these friends. In this light, I am able to empathise with some celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Diana when they talk of lonliness and how it often eats them up inside...

If only everyone can soften their hearts and contemplate on the quote... and listen to themselves deep, deep inside themselves... it will be one step towards world peace...

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Need to Create


Recently, I have been inspired to create something but I do not know what it is. The blame of such a compulsion can certainly be primarily shifted onto the documentary of Philip Glass as its main source of inspiration. Hearing him describe his process of writing music, his upbringing and how he remains undaunted by the multitudes of unfavourable reviews has left me stirring inside.

How does one create something out of nothing? In considering this process, it appears that we are in the likeness of God as we set on a process that He did billions of years ago. To able to create something, anything... is nothing short of a miracle. The need to create for me lies in the heart of expression. To creep out of the loneliness of our minds and to tell the world something is indeed a scary thing but a risk we must all take or risk dying inside. It is a scary thing because of what people think and this cannot be better described than what madam said - 'I hate to subject Art to people's bigotry'.

So what am I to create? What am I to scream to the whole world? Is my "Canvas" the digital pixels of this little blog that I do suspect almost no one reads? For now, Prelude shall indeed be my canvas. I plan to write two pieces to furnish Prelude. One is actually a literary project that aims to explore how we converse or at least how I converse. It is a series of writing in the most direct way possible. I have absolutely no idea how it would turn out because it would range from possibly ramblings that comes out of a stream of consciousness to a snapshots of words.

The second piece would be slightly more tame and sane than the first. In fact, it may even appear boring, cliche and totally unlike me. I just read the commemorative edition of Time magazine in which it is a cover of Michael Jackson. Surprisingly, the articles in there were indeed a balanced assessment of Michael. A sense of poignancy and melancholy filled me after reading these articles and looking at some of Michael's songs on Youtube as I intend to perhaps pen down (type actually) my own thoughts about his passing with heavy reference from the magazine.

On the side, an idea for a play has been lingering in my mind for quite a bit. It was actually sparked off by a request by my friend to write a play for a church Christmas production (the collaboration did not come to pass.. if you were wondering). Well, one of the most stale plots used for such productions would be an unbeliever being struck by calamity and repenting afterward. While such plots are the easiest to get the message through, is it really that realistic? Why can't the character come into knowing in the most mundane of circumstances? That was one of the possibilities I have been doodling around.

I do hope I will start on it very soon and not procrastinate.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Letters Part Two

The main reason I posted Mr. Jenkinson's article as the first post is due to the fact that I do share the same sentiments as he had so articulately expressed. His article is certainly candid and reflective as he shares his attempts at being a long-distance father through his letter; offering whatever a daughter needs to hear and learn from her father.

It certainly strikes a chord when he muses that his daughter will not treasure the significance of his letters as it is a 'little more than a continuous attempt to find new ways to say I love you and I am thinking about you today.' The rationale behind such a routine activity stems from his own experience of how he treasures the letters he receives. Perhaps, when he is gone, the only physical manifestation of him for his daughter would be his letters. In these letters, she will see snippets of her father: his handwriting, choice of ink and stationery and his train of thoughts. Letters are time capsules that encapsulates the essence of the writer which is why when one passes on, it is sometimes hard to read their letters for they are 'too raw with soul' .

Reading his article certainly threw me back into the 'backcountry of despair' for I realised that no one values this form of communication anymore. I did try to revive that habit by sending a few emails, in which the enjoyment I draw from is far from that of sending an actual letter, to some of my friends but it never seem to last. Well, not that I blame any of them for the winds of the future does take us to many places at a fairly quick pace but it is always nice to stop once in a while and just take it all in.

The efficiency of communication that we experience now gives us many opportunities to communicate and such an excess has certainly let us to say much less when we want to communicate much more. It often leads to us being lost in translation. Thus, writing a letter results in a more sincere means of communication for we forced to say all we want to say within a page or two. This therefore means that we often put down thoughts and feelings that are truly important.

Having said so much, I thought it would be befitting to implore my gentle readers through a letter...

Dearest Reader,

Thank you for spending so much time reading through the article as well as my lament on the impending death of letter-writing. I do urge you into giving some thought in reconnecting to your friends by writing a thoughtful letter to them, even if it is through email.

We often have so many places to go at one time and as such, the pace of our hectic lives often makes us lose friendships and relationships if we don't hold onto them. At the end of the day, we may achieve so much... alone. So pick up a pen, or log into your email account and start dedicating some time to the shrine of friendship and never let the well of love run dry.

As for those who have recieved letters or emails and were too busy to reply to them, do take some time to do so. You'll be surprised what turns out.

Yours Truly




Letters Part One

In order to avoid putting you guys through a potentially long post, I shall compose it in two parts. Before I write any further, I would like to borrow the words of Mr. Jekinson for your consideration. The following passage is taken from his weekly columns which you can read from the website, www.jeffersonhour.org

And Then There Was Skype
by Clay Jenkinson
February 1, 2009
My daughter lives in northwestern Kansas. She is 14. Her life is as busy as it could possibly be. Whatever my tired heart has to give, has been freely given to her, and there is no other child, no other claimant.

So I live and breathe for her, which is of course insane, for she is 14, and she was born, like every other child in the world, to pull away in her second decade of life. The pain of this would be unbearable, except that I know she cannot become the adult I am so eager to meet unless I hold open the door and call after her to wear mittens and phone home whenever she can.

We see each other at least once a month, without fail. I call her (cell phone to cell phone) every day, 350-plus days per year, often several times per day, and we now text too, which is just a high tech and inexpensive way of telegraphing a wee message of affection.

It's amazing how a "Hey, Papa, 'sup," can make my day and keep me from drifting into the backcountry of despair. I write her a couple of actual letters per week, hand- or typewritten, and send them in a big white envelope, with something called a postage stamp. It's very odd, this phenomenon.

For about 50 cents, I can get a trained professional to come to my house and pick up a very small item and then carry it 751 miles to a young woman far away. She infallibly gets the little package in three or so days - for less than 50 cents!

As you can see, I regard the U.S. Postal Service as little short of a miracle.

My daughter, however, looks upon my letters as a quaint Paleolithic affectation, a very late and low-tech echo of something you might read in "Little Women" or a novel by Charlotte Bronte. She senses, I think, that I write these letters as much for me as for her. Maybe she is right.

It always settles my heart to put a blank sheet of paper in front of me and take half an hour to compose a letter to her. It means that for that half hour I am thinking solely about her. I try to guess what it would please or comfort her to read from her absent papa. It gives me a chance to try to imagine the rhythms of her life, the moments of unreserved laughter, the many plaguing anxieties of adolescence, the little feuds and misunderstandings with equally constipated classmates, and the first waves of possibility that come in these years and fill a young person simultaneously with eagerness and dread.

I went underground when I was 14. I literally moved into the basement, and much that was most compelling in my life never again found its way to the dinner table. Where is she with the subterranean, I wonder, and look up from the page with my own wave of anxiety.

She gets it that my writing actual letters to her should be regarded as something special, and she puts them, when she is not too rushed with "practice" and Scholar's Bowl or the game against the hated cross-county rival, in a special little box.

Perhaps some day she will read them through in a single night, looking for clues, remembering the days of her childhood, taking a transfusion from the unmistakable, unceasing expressions of love they contain. My letters are little more than a continuous attempt to find new ways to say I love you and I am thinking about you today.

In the mythology of my life, actual letters-in-an-envelope are one of the supreme pleasures. I don't receive many letters any more and don't write many either, given how easy it is to stay in touch by other and more efficient means. We can lament this as much as we please, but it is not likely to change. I fear the day when the last piece of traditional mail is delivered in America and the last newspaper thumped up on the porch at dawn.

The best letters I ever received came from my mentor and closest friend. I keep them treasured up in a special box. I open the box and glance into them now and then, but I cannot really read them, because they are too raw with soul. I used to write and receive love letters when I used to love.

My father, who lived at the other end of the loquacity spectrum, for many years sent me what I called "terse notes." He somehow expressed all he wanted to say in a couple of bone-lean paragraphs. I reread those terse notes now and then and smile and sometimes laugh out loud, but mostly I just miss him and wish he were around so that I could share this portion of my life with him, and put my daughter at his feet.

My daughter doesn't understand this meaning of letters - and really why should she? That was then and this is now. It's like asking her to enjoy old time radio drama or the Grand Ole Opry. She has been typing since she was 6 and she has never lived without access to a computer.

When I was struggling to produce a PowerPoint lecture a couple of years ago, I called to say goodnight, and wound up discussing my frustration. "Oh, Daddy," she replied, "let me walk you through it." Which she did.

Now we have discovered Skype. Skype is an Internet communications technology created by a team of software developers based in Tallinn, Estonia. It allows free online phone calls (ho hum) but also video conversation. Now a few times a week my daughter and I "Skype up," as she puts it, and talk for a few dozen minutes face-to-face across 751 miles.

It's so magical that it is scary. Last night, she "called" pretty late and I had to shake off my bleariness because of course I was "on camera." She wanted to talk about Homer's "Odyssey," but also about her friend Jess who is being a brat.

To see her mouth quiver just a bit, almost imperceptibly, as she tried to brazen it out and say she didn't care if Jess "ever, ever" apologized, was worth all the postage stamps ever printed.

We live in a fabulous time and we must embrace the new world that is bursting like fireworks over our heads. But I'm still going to write those letters.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Dressing Room: A Sanctuary of Love

As a performer, one of the best aspects of performing that is not known to the audience is the dressing room. Amidst the madness of preparation, it is a sanctuary of love. Nothing brings me back more than a little trip to AC's dressing room after a dance performance.

The plan was to meet my friends who were performing to congratulate them on a job well done but I did not manage to do that because the dancers had a long farewell celebration on stage to mark the end of their run. Instead, I was overwhelmed by love, joy, happiness and sincerity. What greeted me in the dressing room was a glaring mess of multi-coloured post-it notes, cards and slips of papers stuck all over the walls and mirrors. They bare the well-wishes, many thanks and expressions of love from each other as well as friends. It was like a neon sign on Broadway that screams I LOVE YOU FOREVER!

It made me realise that such an act, while it may appear to be a tradition, is done in a communal feeling of sincerity in wishing the best for each other as well as a shared love for the stage. It is a heartening assurance that whatever happens, happens to all of them together and because they are together, everything will be fine. In a life that is full of ups and downs, I guess such an assurance is all that is needed.

As I revel in such a scene, I couldn't help but smiled as I went down memory lane and recalled the hours I took to write all those cards by hand and coming up with novel ways to surprise the recipients of my cards. Such a feeling certainly compelled me to run back to the stage, perform again and to receive as well as to give those cards again. In that communal experience, I'm sure the dancers will agree that nothing matters anymore but to be there with each other on stage...

If the notes can truly heal all wounds, I would spend every minute of my life to write those cards and send it to everyone.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Quick Update

I am compelled to update my blog due to the fact that the latest post is several weeks ago. This compulsion is enhanced by many of my friends (who do not blog often) returning to the age old tradition of recording their thoughts down in a relatively public domain.

I am getting sick of booking in every weekend just to wait anxiously for five days before I can book out. This routine has certainly taken a toll on me due to the fact that my camp is far from my house and that the particular course that I am in never seems to end. I absolutely can't wait for the time when I start doing duty full time because the mindless regimentation do not apply much when I am off-duty and thus, gaining a little of myself back again. Of course, the ultimate freedom is still 526 days away which is slightly depressing.

I am glad that I managed to pack my weekends with activities and events that keeps me occupied and leave me feeling a little less blue. However, I still lament the fact that I am almost totally removed from my friends as I am utterly clueless about how they are getting along. The only contact I have would be through the impersonal facebook where the updates they put up gives me a rough idea of what they are doing. I do wish there were more chances of having reunions here and there just to catch up and have a nice chat.

Perhaps, the biggest highlight of my life right now is that I am slowly getting back into the groove of playing the flute again. Having the flexibility of my fingers moving along the instrument has gave me a great deal of satisfaction; much more than before I disrupted my lessons due to my enlistment into the army. I do look forward to getting my Grade 8 soon and working on my music in the hopes of being able to play at leisure and not just for the sake of taking the exams.

Another interesting thing that happened to me was a visit to the dance studio today as my cousin wanted to see the lessons they offer. It was their open house and they were giving their prospective customers a trial lesson. I attended the adult ballet class and did some plies for the sheer fun of it. Even though plies is merely an exercise and not a full choreography, being there in the studio made me realised how much I missed dancing. The bond I have with my fellow mates, the strong expression of oneself through the body and of course the exhilaration that performing brings... I can't wait to dance again... no matter how bad I am at it...

What is left of me is to hope and pray that the hours will pass like minutes and the minutes will pass like seconds before I am free to do what I love again.

Friday, May 8, 2009

In Search of Connection

I often grapple with myself on the issue of the degree of compromise to my privacy I'm willing to make with regards to my blog. I am a very private person and am very selective to reveal various details of myself. That explains why I'm only liberal in revealing my thoughts and outlook of life rather than personal details or emotions that I am experiencing. On this occasion, I may make an exception in revealing some of my private thoughts. However, this is dependent on the compulsion of the moment as I set on this journey of writing.

The main impetus to compose this post is the urgent need for self-expression and release. Yet, I still have to face the fact that writing is never an easy task as it is almost impossible to articulate the waves of intense and varied emotions one feels. Nevertheless, I shall attempt to spell it out in the frail hope of someone understanding my experience. If not, I shall do it for myself as these words may come in useful someday.

Having come thus far in my life, I am on a search for true human to human connection. One that is earnest and sincere. One that transcends over pleasantries or any form of conversation - a strong and unspoken knowledge that we will be there for each other come what may.

It is most lamentable and regrettable that earnest conversation has died as we are often shackled by obligations that is overwhelmed by diabetic pleasantry and flattery. This is most resounding when I noticed a friend reading a book that teaches one 'How to Talk to Anyone'. How can there be an instruction manual for an activity that stems from the heart? Such an instance is indeed a sign of how much complicated that we have evolved that we are unable to be sincere.

Therefore, as we have come to this, is it truly impossible to find back that sincerity and willingness in trying to reconnect with one another? Must we always rely on the advances of science and technology to aid us? Even so, the sincerity of the heart is still missing from that equation. To that question, Aye. We must remove all expectations we have of each other for that bogs us down and destroys any relationship. We must have a strong faith in the love we have for each other and know it in our hearts that we will be there. That shall be an example of the human spirit at its best.

Till then, I'm in search for that person....


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Snippets of the Past

On this occasion, I would like to highlight a past blog post of mine. Its significance and reason behind this highlight shall be made known to my gentle readers at a later stage. Thank you for your patience...

How my Hols got Worse and Better Again

It is extremely rare that I would relate a day's events in such detail for I find that the monotony of modern life has rendered a large part of the day meaningless. However, today's events has certainly shocked me out of existence and got me back again which renders it worthy of relation and discussion.

For those who are personal friends or acquaintances of mine (i.e. having some sort of online contact with me), one could already guess that today certainly is one of those days in which technology triumphs over the human. Yes, I have brilliantly busted a laptop for no conceivable reason. Such occurrences truly compels me to actually roll up my sleeves and go back to basics of self-sustainability. Well, technology has certainly become part of a lifestyle rather than a tool but its temperamental nature certainly irks me. That's the tumultuous highlight of the day.

The main highlight of the day that was most heartening would be a visit to my grandfather's house. It has certainly been ages since I've visited that gentle old man. I certainly owe a part of who I am to him since he took care of me during my primary school years. With his eloquence and intelligence, he managed to convinced the principal to allow him to visit me during school hours almost every single day. Those few fleeting years actually do form a very fond memory of him.

He certainly is an extremely knowledgeable man in all areas. The amazing thing is that his knowledge extends from the days of yore to the present ongoings in the world. That wealth of knowledge is certainly commendable and I do wished his health afforded him the strength to see me during my secondary school years which did not come to pass.

That one hour conversation, though mostly intellectual, was certainly enlightening. Not only did it helped in updating my knowledge of current affairs (which is currently lacking as most of my alert, waking hours are dedicated to the dreaded SEA history) but seeing him in his golden years certainly made me respect him for how far he has come as a man, a father and more importantly, a grandfather to me. Though he has certain reservations or mindset which does come into conflict with mine, I often find myself grinning at his conservative mindset. Perhaps my respect has rendered this conflict trivial and even a cute contrast between the past and present.

Aside from my respect, reverence and nostalgia, there is a lingering sense of poignancy to the conversation. It has become very noticable that my grandfather's memory has begun to fail him at times as he mistook my age, my secondary school and even certain facts regarding our relatives. The man who use to spend a whole day reading every single article in the newspaper has difficulty reading and is subjected to reading the headlines or watching the news to update his extensive knowledge. Life is poignant and one's physical decay is inevitable as I begin to notice my grandfather's age beginning to creep up on him year by year. In this light, thoughts of losing him inevitably crowded my mind and suddenly death really became an issue that I struggled with mentally.

Morris "Morrie" Schwartz may be right in pointing out that death ends a life and not a relationship. A relationship that I will certainly treasure and remember for life.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Experimentation: Blab at Work

Must one always think before they write? The recent happenings in my life often compels me to write in order to express myself and confide in whoever wishes to read. However, the problem often lies with the fact that the release I need through writing or the feelings that needs to be expressed is often complicated and incoherent. Therefore, for this post, I shall experiment just typing anything that compels me at the moment and not be bogged down by grammar or any rules of English. Of course, after the process is done, I shall edit it for coherence sake. So thank you for taking this journey with me.

Being in my current vocation course for a long period of ten weeks has placed me into a ruthless routine during the weekdays as I find myself being out of sorts the whole time through due to the ungodly waking hours. Yet, the real problem comes when I book out and while the rest of the world welcomes the weekend as they spend their meager pay painting the town red and just living the sights and sounds of the city, I wonder how to spend it productively. I have no reason to waste away my money at something that brings no joy not comfort to me but as I take a step back, I realise that this seemingly mindless activity provides the benefit of taking your mind off the fact that one has to book in a few days time. Therefore, in that sense, my scorn of the seeming frivolous and cheap thrills has made a fool out of me as I am plagued by the thought of booking in almost every waking hour since I have nothing to do at home.

Speaking of forgetting the blues of this routine life, I do cherish the times I have with my bunkmates. While I do confess that I do not subscribe to many of their philosophies, the mindless fun we have just being foolish certainly brings a sweet end to a terrible day. That one hour sacrifice of the much needed sleep is certainly worth it for while it does not enrich the soul in anyway, it does chase some of the blues away and make us less apprehensive about the new day as we look forward to the next night in the bunk.

Gah... lost the mood to write anymore... so there... snippets of my life for you... go figure...


Friday, April 10, 2009

Layman Sociology

It is obvious that any boy will face his NS life with a sense of irritation and trepidation due to the sudden change of environment and draconian regimentation before him. Of course, I am no exception in disliking being in the NS. I am not at ease to disclose in detail my reasons for feeling so but I would like to explore a theory that was proposed by someone that my displeasure is due to the fact that I am an only child.

Frankly speaking, I know not if that proposal was an insult of me being a "spoilt kid" or perhaps an innocent offering of his rather flawed theory. As I intend this post to be of a proper discourse, I shall give this poor fellow a benefit of a doubt and propose that having siblings does not alter one's opinion of being in NS regardless of it being a positive or a negative one.

His theory is backed up by the fact that one is often more willing to share and tolerate when one has siblings. In addition, if one has an elder brother who is excelling in NS, either the competitive spirit or adoration of his older sibling will spur one to view NS in a positive light. Such offerings also allow one to infer that an only child views NS negatively because he has been awarded freedom and exclusive love throughout his life and the sudden deprivation of it often leads to a negative perception of NS. That is, on many accounts, very prescriptive, anecdotal and flawed.

One's perception of NS should be, as much as possible, of one's true thoughts and feelings and not be tied to compulsion and duty. It should be sincere and not tainted by any other agenda. Yet, to be fair, this 'sincere perception' so to speak is influenced by one's upbringing and character. With that in mind, I can safely say that the poor chap's first offering of tolerance and sharing is nothing but anecdotal. Any instance of sibling rivalry in the courtrooms is proof enough that such a positive inculcation is utterly dependant on a person's character and upbringing.

Additionally, the second offering of competition or adoration cannot be considered to be one's sincere perception. This is due to the fact that this seemingly positive attitude is compelled by a greater force of wanting to outdo or be one's older brother and therefore taking all the regimentation, expectations and discpline in one's stride. Such a positive opinion is therefore not derived from the examination of the military system and forming an opinion of it. Hence, such an instance cannot be taken into consideration. And I will reassert that it all depends on one's character, philosophy and upbringing.

For me, I dislike NS because I am a complex mix of rationality and emotions. I disagree with some of the mechanisms of the SAF and do not feel that certain implementations truly makes one a better soldier in any sense. Furthermore, I am a firm believer that discipline is inculcated from the inside out and not by imposition. Therefore, the mechanisms of NS not only does not serve its intended purpose but it puts my life to a grinding halt; putting certain ambitions and opportunities on the backburner which may not re-surface ever again. It is thus clear that my reasons do not stem from my lack of siblings whatsoever and that theory is a smuttering of layman sociology.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Plenty O' Nuttin'

The Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, were wise fellows to write a song that captures the essence of life. Aside from its catchy melody, 'I got plenty o' nuttin', is endearing for its message speaks to everyone as it compels one to reflect in a time of excesses being violently stripped away due to the winds of change in the global economy. While it does relates to many in this economic crisis, what struck me most about this song is also the emotional and spiritual aspect of contentment in our lives.

Porgy's simple philosophy of being contented with the basic essentials of life is perhaps the most profound to understand or accept in today's world. Many of us have forgotten the fact that when we want something, there is always a lack in our lives; a hole that we can never fill. No doubt, it is great to have ambition and to challenge oneself to be seemingly greater. But the 'greed is good' ideology will result in a backlash for we often do not know when to tow the line and end up in deep trouble. This is due to the fact that our goals and standards are set against others and therefore, we always have this sense of lack in our lives for there will always be someone in a better position or station in life than us. In this light, the greatness that we seek are mere ornamentation against a weak foundation of self.

What then, are the basic essentials of life? Obviously, it really depends one's definition and what one derives contentment from. For me, I derive contentment from both the material and spiritual aspects of life. Materially, contentment comes from the full knowledge of that I am fully provided in terms of food, shelter and warmth for myself, family. Other than that, my economic situation does not matter that much for while I enjoy the luxuries of life, wealth is nothing but an ornament. Therefore, what good is a well furnished house that is built on weak foundations and in a unsuitable location? Spiritually, I am content with a nice, small group of people with whom we can mutually support each other emotionally as well as enriching ourselves by constantly engaging in lively conversation. Of course, my spiritual needs can never be complete without God in my life.

It is only when we stop wanting that we are made whole.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Journal

Before I start this post proper, I am sure many of my gentle readers is utter confused at my choice of topics for this blog as I left some of my posts (especially the later ones) visibly hanging in the air. I do apologise for that as I am indeed rather busy with National Service and have neither the time nor the calmness of mind to sit down and write properly. As I have not updated my blog for quite a long time, I have decided that rather than launching into a ponderous discussion, I would just update my gentle readers on my current activities, pursuits and thoughts.

It was certainly weird to don that green uniform again as I count down to fulfilling my service to the nation. It really is a bitter-sweet feeling one has when one dons a uniform. To be frank, while one may feel restricted due to the regimentation being imposed on you, you may get a sense of pride from knowing you are serving those people who stare at you when you step out into the public. Of course, I must admit that while the stares are not necessarily that of respect but of curiosity of the new uniform but the thought of doing something for these people despite how insignificant your role is (mine is, in some ways....).Hence, I am frankly still struggling with the idea of being in the army but I can't deny that in some part of me (I really hate saying this) that there is some pride - pride in the service and of the attention you do get.

Besides that, I have been living in my head for quite a bit as I contemplate on activities I may take up for my self-nourishment. I am certainly anxious to know my full schedule so that I can return to my flute, reading and many other things that I plan to pick up to develop myself not only as a man of letters, a competent performer and to be in a pink of health.

That's all for now..

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sing Up!

Sing Up! is a new initiative by the British Government to inculcate a love for singing in primary school children. This initiative is not only a cultural one to give opportunities to students who are not academically inclined to explore other avenues but it is also proven to improve test scores. It helps in language, speech and even counting which are the basic skills a primary school student need to acquire to get a good education.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pride and Prejudice

In the midst of the politeness in which the book is constructed, I realised that Austen's writing style does appeal to the modern sensibilities. She structures her plot in quick successions of scenes as if it were a play, dissolves much details about various settings and atmosphere (to put it in modern terms, she has a cinematic style of writing) but placing central focus on the feelings and reactions of her central characters which is a hallmark of the Romantic literary movement. This certainly appeals to us who have frail powers of concentration to imagine the details of the whole scene but evokes a reaction towards the characters as we are intimately acquainted with their feelings. This is certainly unlike Dickens who demands unwavering attention to his overwhelming details.

She also has a unique style of using letters to accelerate the plot by summarising a great deal of events into a single letter. She also uses letters as a rebellious tool in her highly structured, stratified and polite society for characters to express their most private and sincere sentiments. This striking use of letters (according to certain literary essays, there are more than 20 letters mentioned in the novel) is why many critics deemed this novel as a 'novel in letters'.

Finally, it is also interesting to note that while she is fond of dissolving much details she shares a similarity with Dickens in using certain key settings to reveal the interiors of a character's personality. For example, Austen only pays very close attention to Pemberly Estate (Darcy's house) as a tool for Elizabeth to realise who Darcy really is from his servants (all of whom gave very glowing testaments to his character) and the furnishings of the house. As much as Pemberly is very stately, it is also very elegant and tasteful in its design and furnishings unlike Rosings which is portrayed to be extravagant. In addition, Austen also uses the portraits (the idea of portraits is also used metaphorically in the novel as a reference to a person's image and reputation in society) that are hung on the walls of the estate for the very same purpose.

Aside from appreciating all the literary devices that Austen employs, I found three very pertinent themes that runs throughout the novel that compels me to consider how I conduct my relationships with others. One of the most important themes would be the struggle between our perceptions and rationality in judging others. Elizabeth, in being her very admirably spirited, perceptive and witty self, does commit the fault of confusing the true personalities of Darcy and Wickham due to their deceptive appearances. In fact, there is an interesting instance in chapter 17 where Jane, in all her goodness and innocence (some would say to the point of blissful naivety), proved to be a better gauge of character than Elizabeth. In that chapter, Elizabeth is informed by Wickham of Darcy's "ill-treatment" and preventing him from realising his ambition as he was left with no choice but to join the army. This left Elizabeth fuming mad at Darcy but Jane unwittingly gives this rather wise analysis that would pose as a hint to the readers that Darcy isn't what Elizabeth perceives him to be:

'...but consider in what a disgraceful light it places Mr. Darcy, to be treating his father's favourite in such a manner, - one, whom his father had promised to provide for. - It is impossible. No man of common humanity, no man who had any value for his character, could be capable of it.'

There are a few other instances where Elizabeth proved to be unwise in her judgement but it is not necessary to mention them here. Such an instance proves how we rely too much on our defencive faculties and judge people too quickly. But there is a problem - how are we supposed to form our opinions of people and friends aside from what they appear to be? We can't possibly be pedantic and launch a full background check on everyone we meet to truly make friends and depend on them!

Another theme that runs through the novel would be the idea of performance - the role that we play in society which is often defined by our connections and social status.The characters all play specific roles in this society and as much as Elizabeth and Darcy tries to break free from this, they are still obligated to their family or societal conventions. Such an idea sees everything linked to the idea of duty and the value of certain things such as love and marriage is stripped out of the equation. This can be clearly seen in Charlotte Lucas' marriage to Collins where she marries not out of love but out of what society demands of a woman, much to Elizabeth's horror. This theme is by far the most compelling theme for me. At times, I feel so suffocated because of various unnecessary obligations that binds us from doing what we want and that we often have to put up a pretense just to fulfill them. What good is pretense in fulfilling these obligations? As much as we want our freedom, we are sadly products of society and are certainly bound by such obligations as exhibited by Elizabeth (who is occasionally ashamed of her family's behaviour) and Darcy (who finally ignores his social standing and pursues his happiness though he has to make a compromise of accepting Wickham as his brother-in-law).

This conversation that I had with Austen was certainly thought-provoking and intriguing!