An appreciation of the Piano Guys, via an annotated setlist from their Singapore concert of 25 September 2018

1. Batman series (A quick romp through the campy Adam West TV series, the Tim Burton-directed, Danny Elfman-scored 1989 hit and the Dark Knight trilogy. Setting the mood.)

2. (A familiar-sounding tune which I don’t know the title of. My first live experience of a cello as a percussion instrument.)

3. “Let it go” from Frozen + Vivaldi’s Winter (A modern hit studded with elements of a hit from yonks ago. See a version from the Piano Guys’ YouTube channel here.)

4. “Love story” + “Viva la vida” *

5. “With or without you” (Steve shows off his “loop pedal”, which enables him to record and play back snippets of sound from his cello, so that he can add in loops and improvise with them, live. Steve and Jon (the pianist) proceed with a bravura rendition of the U2 classic, with haunting cello bits. Note to self: Find out the technical term for cello bits.)

6. “Kung fu piano: Cello ascends” (A combo of the “Oogway ascends” theme from Kung Fu Panda – Steve explains that Kung Fu Panda was scored by Hans Zimmer, justifying the Guys’ decision to play this on the Great Wall of China – and one of Chopin’s preludes. A version here.)

7. “A million dreams” from The Greatest Showman (Jon’s solo. A version here.)

8. “The Cello Song” (Steve shows off his cellos. He has 29, he says. The carbon fibre one is French, he says, and is named “Car-born Fee-bray”. There is also an electric one which is basically the outline of a cello, with the strings intact.)

9. “It’s gonna be OKAY” (Al (as far as I can figure he does a lot of the mixing and arrangements) lends his vocals to this upbeat tune. A version here.)

10. (All four Piano Guys onstage. Use the piano as a percussion instrument, before which they warn those learning to play the piano that they should not try that at home.)**

11. Blues riff (Jon relates that, at a previous concert, he had invited someone from the audience to play jazz on the piano with him, and the audience at that concert had loved it, “blew the roof off”. Says he will try it here too, and asks for someone from the audience. Assures everyone this is not prearranged. Someone from the audience goes onstage. He is Ishan. Jon asks him where he is from. He says he is from Sri Lanka. Jon asks him about his experience with the piano. He says he plays a bit a jazz. Walks to the piano with Jon, tickles the ivory with a little flourish which gets the crowd ooh-ing. Steve jokes, “a bit of jazz”. The trio proceeds to perform a grandstanding barnstorming riff which gets even me moving – Ishan is apparently very good (I wouldn’t know, so asked my cello-playing friend who was with me; she said he was very good) – and after the end and an extended ovation, Ishan steps off the stage. Steve jokes that he forgot to get Ishan’s number in case his current pianist doesn’t work out. I still can’t figure out if there was any prearrangement. My friend is quite sure there was. I waver between agreeing wholeheartedly, and thinking the Piano Guys are too wholesome to engage in such subterfuge.)

12. “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission + “How great thou art” (Steve talks about the time they played at the Christ the Redeemer statue, and then at the Iguazu Falls, and how they felt more at the latter. He goes on to say that his own explanation is that Christ the Redeemer statue is man’s way of showing love for God, and the Falls God’s way of showing love for man. I’m not religious, but I like that explanation. There is inspiration that comes from something bigger than oneself, than what one can create. A version here.)***

13. “I want you Bach” (A mash-up of Bach and “I want you back” by the Jackson Five. Suitably funky. A version here.)****

14. “Rockelbel’s canon” (Jon says they are going to play Pachelbel’s canon. Steve laments that the cello part consists of just a few chords, repeated endlessly. Pretends to be so bored by the straight-ish part of the performance that he falls asleep. Jon wakes him up, and he embarks on a rock version. A cool music video here.)

15. “A thousand years” (Jon says it’s their last two songs. Announces that they will next play their most romantic piece. Notes that he is aware there are those who used the Piano Guys’ version of this song in their wedding. Finds out some of those are in the audience. Performs with Steve a beatific version of the Christina Perri tune.)*****

16. “This is your fight song” (An unforgettable combo of Rachel Platten’s “Fight song” and “Amazing grace”, infused with elements of Scottish march music. Gah. The version here conveys some of the spirit of resilience and unbreakable faith from the performance. Brilliant. Wipe my eyes a couple of times.)

17. Encore (All four Piano Guys onstage doing their thing e.g. using the piano as a percussion ^and^ string instrument. I can tell you more about this in person if you are interested.)

* After some Googling, I think this was a combo of the Taylor Swift song and the Coldplay song (which I confused with the Ricky Martin tune at the concert).

** I already don’t remember when the intermission was, but I think it came after this item.

*** Around here I start to realise this is a great concert experience. The music is superb, and the absence of lyrics frees my mind to free-associate and the more conscious part of my mind to pay attention to that. I remember that someone had gotten baptised in a swimming pool in her friend’s condo, and I really envied her friend. I notice that I hadn’t remembered that in a very long time.

**** My sort of pun. Cements my patronage of the Piano Guys for the foreseeable future.

***** My friend was surprised this is used at weddings – she thought it was sad. I personally think the song is about abiding love, and there is an optimistic note to it.


Revisiting Tuesdays with Morrie

Many years ago, I read Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. Before I read it, I had no idea I could sob so hard reading a book. So when I saw that a play based on the book was going to be staged in Singapore – a translated production by Godot Theatre Company from Taiwan was coming to the Esplanade – I asked a few of the regular folks I’d watch plays with if they’d like to watch it too, and when none of them did, I got a ticket for myself.

The play was largely faithful to the original text, which was satisfying, but the translation sapped it of some coherence – for example, the word “love” is more versatile in the English language than its equivalent in Chinese is, and so it was natural in the book that Mitch says to his wise coach Morrie “I love you”, but awkward onstage when he said the same in Chinese.

I enjoyed the chemistry between the two leads, which allowed some of the added humour in the adaptation – judiciously injected, I think, to lighten a weighty subject in a more visceral medium than print – to shine. Morrie has ALS, and accepts that he will one day lose the ability to wipe his own behind, and his mischievous threat to Mitch that he would have to help his old prof do that is played out with great timing and poignancy. In another part of the play, Morrie is having Mitch read out loud the many letters that he has received and dictating replies to them. There is a 21-page letter from a former student who had gone through a lot, and this is played out in a silent scene, with the lights down. Then the words “One hour later” flashed on the screens at the side of the stage, and the two ponder how to start the reply, until Morrie suggests: “Thank you for your long letter.” In the book, the volume of letters is clear from the author’s short summaries of different letters, and this last letter is given a summary lasting an entire paragraph of woe and misery, and it is Morrie’s son who suggests how to start the reply, and Morrie beams at him.

I also enjoyed how the play made me think back. When I first read the book, my bed was in a different place in my room, the headboard against the window. And I remember, in one of my first years of work in my current workplace, I had the opportunity to share my love of the book through giving it to a boss I admired via a Secret Santa gift exchange. We had a small festive celebration at Sentosa, and I remember Andrew playing the guitar. That was altogether a time of bigger possibilities.

Stuff which moved me recently

The MICappella concert in early November may have been the best concert I’ve ever been to. Juni, Kexin, Calin, Peter, Eugene and Mingwei performed with energy and joy – and maybe because they were doing a cappella, there was less between the audience and the group’s unvarnished stage presence. I’ve never been so glad to have been jioed by a friend to something. Their rendition of “One Night in Beijing” had jaded me just wowed and stunned in my seat.

See some YouTube clips of their work below, and go to their next concert!

A cover of JJ Lin’s 可惜没如果

(I enjoy both MICappella’s cover and the original, but I find the original (see here) too “produced”, with its instrumental flourishes almost literally tugging at the heartstrings. I believe the phrase in Chinese would be 匠心太重. I find that I have that feeling about many JJ Lin songs.)

A medley of covers of popular Chinese hits in 2016

A cover of “One Night in Beijing”


I reread this profile of Ted Williams’ last game for the Boston Red Sox, and found John Updike’s writing timeless and observant – his use of nameless fellow common people just so well done – and touching.

And I got reminded of another virtuoso piece of writing about a sportsman I have had the pleasure of watching. The writer himself is unfortunately no longer around, but David Foster Wallace’s profile of Roger Federer and his whip of a forehand – done more than 10 years ago and still fresh, a testament to Federer’s staying power and Wallace’s ability to convey a sense of what it must be like to see that talent in the flesh.


I resumed reading Charles Duhigg’s Smart Better Faster about a week ago. It was in my pile of books to read and I realised that I never finished it after opening it and finding a bookmark inside. It is a book that tries to break down what makes people productive, and does that well, partly through stories illustrating certain principles. An early one – about a chap who suffered brain damage which removed his motivation and how the chap’s wife helped him to regain it by persistently and patiently asking him question after question to make him make choices and take agency – gave me the chills.


I am moved by more things now, getting decidedly more maudlin as I get decisively older. The first book which made me bawl was Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie”, in my first year at work. Now the above books/articles/experiences, which I went through in the last two months, have all done that.


More 琅琊榜 thoughts I had while I wasn’t blogging

Looking through my diary of sorts – I use Google Keep to log stuff from my brain – I discovered some thoughts I had about 琅琊榜 Lang Ya Bang before I watched the TV adaptation.* This was in June, about a quarter of a year after I had read the books.

  • 琅琊榜 is still in my thoughts. When I read at the end of the book that the author first thought of 景禹’s (Jingyu’s) character** and then built the book around him, I totally got it – the stuff in the book happened because of who he was.
  • And also after thinking about it some more my conclusion is that after all that buildup – the protagonist prince Jingyan finally realised his buddy Lin Shu was alive and had been by his side, maligned and distrusted by him, for more than a year about 80% into the story – the two had too few conversations, too little time with each other :(
  • It is so strange that I’m still thinking about the book. Particularly memorable moments would just pop into my mind.*** Like this morning I just suddenly thought about how Lin Shu told Jingyan that his body would never recover (little wonder, since to completely purge his body of the poison which had penetrated deep into his marrow, he had to have his skin stripped and bones ground, and after that he had a different face, and would not live past 40 at the oldest****), and how Jingyan patted his shoulder and told Lin Shu it was OK, as long as Lin Shu was there, it was OK.*****
  • I can imagine a great TV adaptation would be even more memorable****** :)


*I went back to insert hanyu pinyin names for the 琅琊榜 Lang Ya Bang summary in my previous post, to help folks follow along. Heh.

**Recap: Jingyu was the eldest prince, seen in the books only in flashbacks and fond memories, granted death by poisoned wine by his father the king, who wrongly thought him treasonous.

***Update: There’s slightly less of that now.

****An incomplete purge of the poison, which another character in the story chose, involved some acupuncture. That’s it. He would live a normal lifespan, but the poison would mean he would have white hair all over his body and a stiff tongue, which would prevent him from speaking properly. Why didn’t Lin Shu choose this infinitely less painful way of dealing with the poison? Because he had to avenge his family and the Lin army, and to do that he had to be a normal person.

*****It just struck me: This exchange was different in the TV series. In the TV series, the scene was condensed. Lin Shu said that he would never recover, never be able to beat Jingyan. Jingyan retorted that Lin Shu actually had the advantage – even if Lin Shu were to hit him, Jingyan would not retaliate. Lin Shu had sort of the last word: Jingyan was the Crown Prince – to hit him would be suicide. And the two of them chuckled and sighed, I’d like to think because it was like old times, the banter, and not like old times at all. In the book, the exchange was longer, more layered. There were descriptions of how Jingyan had to gulp down his excitement when Lin Shu said his name instead of “Your Highness” for the first time since he knew Lin Shu was Lin Shu, details like that, which were portrayed in a wonderfully nuanced way by the TV actors.

******So true. So true.

Thoughts I had while not blogging

It’s been a while, so this is going to be a long one.

Once in a while, I would remember an especially embarrassing or awkward thing that happened to me. Usually, the memory is triggered by a sight or a thought, and I mentally wince.* A reliable one is the Chinese character for lone: 孤. Every time I see it, I am reminded of a secondary school Chinese teacher. I can’t remember how he taught**, but he was very popular, because he was a somewhat well-known lyricist and composer for the theme songs for Chinese TV serials. Once, he invited our class to his home, a condominium named Youngberg something, where I remember three things happened.

One, his wife was home too, and made us something to eat, and we were wondering how to greet her, and the head boy (for Chinese anyway), the teacher’s biggest fan, settled on 师母 – something like teacher-mother.

Two, we watched Terminator 2: Judgment Day – and spent a good 10 minutes discussing if the title was misspelled.

Three, the teacher offered to do some calligraphy for us, and asked us to pick a character. No one did – I remember being surprised that the head boy didn’t, and I also remember that I had reasoned at the time that it might be because it was already quite late – so I suggested 孤. I had always liked the character.

But the teacher said to choose another character, 孤 was too negative, calligraphy was for happy occasions. And, because I had always liked the character, and because I was sort of a loner at the time and did not think that being by oneself was necessarily a bad thing, and because it was unfair, he had not stipulated that negative characters were to be avoided, and because I couldn’t think of another character that I wanted to have drawn, I didn’t say anything, and probably sulked petulantly.*** Until the teacher very unwillingly – he wasn’t above being petulant himself – took up the brush, dipped it in that thick black ink, and drew the character.

I remember thinking it was very good, considering that it was not done willingly.

I also remember, more vaguely, throwing it out years after.

I like to think that I’m still that loner.

But I don’t like that character anymore.

*If you see me daydreaming and my face suddenly twists, well, sometimes the wince isn’t just mental.

**Funny – I can’t remember how he taught, but I can remember how another two secondary school Chinese teachers taught, or more specifically how they marked compositions. One was very proper, and would mark students down when they tried more creative phrases; another was very much the opposite, readily sprinkling “Good!” 好! and “Very good!” 很好! for the same.

***There probably wasn’t any “probably” about it.

In January this year, a momentous thing happened.

For the first time in absolutely ages – more than a decade, closing on two – I played bridge.

It was after work, with colleagues.

It took a while to remember how to play, but within a few tricks it was no longer a mystery, and I started to remember how I never played conservatively, because it was never for any stakes.

I enjoyed myself so much that evening, and probably laughed louder than I ever have in that building where I work.

Even more momentous, last year I was asked to help choose songs for my pal’s wedding. I am the proudest of these recommendations, all accepted:

  1. Beautiful in my eyes – Joshua Kadison. I loved almost every song in his first album “Painted Desert Serenade”, out when I was in secondary school, and I was very pleased to gift it to a work friend some years back. A friend opined that Joshua Kadison had a voice like Marc Cohn and Elton John. That’s quite accurate I think.
  2. Longer – Dan Fogelberg. The comparative lines – e.g. “stronger than any mountain cathedral / truer than any tree ever grew” – evoke familiarity and outlandish extreme at the same time, and I think those make the song timeless.
  3. I only want to be with you – Tina Arena. I got to know of this version only in the few months before my pal’s wedding, it feels like. It’s a slower, sweeter version of Dusty Springfield’s 1960s rock-and-roll original. Tina Arena is smitten singing the song.

Despite my not believing in marriage, I enjoyed myself at that wedding.

Yet another stupendous sign of how few physical books I’ve read recently: Reading an engrossing book, I went to the bathroom half-thinking the book might blink off on me.

Speaking of engrossing books, I must confess. I read 琅琊榜 (Lang Ya Bang, for some reason translated as “Nirvana in Fire“*) a few months back. I had accompanied a friend to the Bugis Kinokuniya to buy the set of three books, and she was raving about the TV series and how it made her want to read the books. So she did and very kindly offered to lend them to me a few months later, around March.

They were phenomenal. I couldn’t stop reading them. I couldn’t stop tearing at the lyrical depictions of a prince (his name is Jingyan) missing his childhood buddy, who was now his scheming advisor (calling himself Mei Changsu, but who used to be Lin Shu), unrecognisable because the prince had thought him dead for 13 years, but also (mostly) because, to purge the ultimate poison from his body and avenge his wronged family and the Lin army, he had to have his skin stripped and bones ground, the poison went that deep; of the scene where Jingyan realised Mei Changsu was his childhood buddy Lin Shu, alive but oh so changed, wronged but determined to push Jingyan to the throne; of the princess (Nihuang, literally Neon Phoenix, and she shone) who was betrothed to Lin Shu and who had to shoulder the weight of defending her country’s southern borders since her teens and who had to go without her betrothed for 13 years and who somehow still fathomed that Mei Changsu was him, different face and all; of the eldest prince Jingyu, seen in the book only in flashbacks and allusions to his virtue and bravery in pushing for progressive rule and ultimately his naivete – only when he was presented with a literal poisoned chalice from his father the king, who, suspicious to the point of paranoia, wrongly believed him treasonous, only then did he realise the father did not know the son, and the son did not know the father.

And then of course I had to watch the whole 54 episodes of the TV series, which I found a respectful and genuinely appreciative adaptation, which also effortlessly wrung tears from these eyes.

Wholeheartedly recommended. I bought a set of the books for myself.

*Unfortunately, the Wikipedia page is a rather messy read.

OK OK, this was funny – on 13 June I had the opportunity to use an eraser for the first time in ages, and it turned out I had almost forgotten how they worked. I rubbed it over the pencil marks – I remembered that much – and with a few strokes, off came some parts of the eraser, and off came the pencil marks. It was like magic.

29 May – I noticed that my colleague, a young one, had started forming jowls. Just started. But they are there. On her face.

3 July (a few days after my 40th birthday) – They are there on my face too.

Yup, I’ve been thinking more about mortality. It’s morbid. Almost fascinatingly so.

Lastly, and very importantly, I heard on 8 March that a new John le Carre book called “Legacy of Spies” was on its way. I am sedentary and not very demonstrative, but believe me, I wooted very loudly in my mind.



3 spoilery thoughts about Rogue One

I saw Rogue One today. It was a bloated appetiser of a movie, quite fun but substanceless.

  1. Given that the key part of the movie depicted a mission whose success gave hope to the entire free galaxy, the import of that mission was strangely downplayed. It came across as something the heroes did out of personal defiance, rather than out of commitment to some great cause. The reason some others later joined the mission was never convincing. At some point near the end, it became obvious that the mission was one of the suicide variety, but even that realisation was strangely devoid of feeling. The script did not give Felicity Jones and Diego Luna much to work with, and the silent looks and gestures which made up the bulk of their dialogue then emphasised what to me was a lack of chemistry.
  2. Cynical me thought Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen were in the movie purely to attract into cinemas people of a similar colour, of which there are hordes, the size of which guarantees heaps of profit no matter the quality of the film. Nothing I saw made me revise that thought. The two played guardians of a destroyed temple, Yen a staff-wielding blind man who seemed to retain an almost comical faith in the Force, Jiang his burly laser shotgun-toting buddy. There was chemistry between the two of them, but only between the two of them, there being no meaningful dialogue between them and the others on the mission, which could have been a concession to their lack of fluency in English, though I doubt it because (i) at least Yen spent considerable time in the US when he was in his teens and (ii) subtitles are a thing. The script simply left the audience to fill in their motivations.
  3. Apart from the poor script, I think two other things will stay with me. One is the new droid, used for both comic relief and emotion heft, and of course merchandise sales. Two is the cut-through-swathe-of-minions performance at the end by the imposingly helmeted one, voiced by James Earl Jones. It was a thrill to hear him.

P/S. The young Carrie Fisher – or maybe it was an older Carrie Fisher, with the appropriate digital enhancements – made a cameo appearance. I never knew her beyond the Star Wars movies. I did not know she was a writer, or known for being open about her mental illness and therefore bringing awareness to and banishing taboo from the same. She seems to have done good that will last beyond her time.

Five things I recently and not-so-recently read

We learn 25% from our teacher, 25% from experience, 25% from our friends, and 25% from time #WitchOfPortobello

– Text of a tweet by @paulocoelho, which I read to mean that the quote is from Paulo Coelho’s book The Witch of Portobello. I had come to know about Paulo Coelho through The Alchemist and Veronika Decides to Die. After I typed out the text of the quote, it struck me that saying that we learn 25% from experience and 25% from time was repetitive; but then I thought, was it? Learning from experience could learning from doing something or being affected by some event; learning from time, on the other hand, need not – the passing of time itself may convey some lessons…

In the frosty gloom of Dec. 30, as a hissing wind spun litter through the air, the Maltz company had among its cars a 2011 Mustang convertible, multiple Mercedes-Benzes, two cars that didn’t even run and George Bell’s 2005 Toyota.

– The start of a paragraph from N R Kornfeld’s The Lonely Death of George Bell, published in The New York Times on 17 October 2016. The story is about the leavings of a man who died alone, in New York City. You can hear the wind hiss and see the litter being spun.

China may not yet be a great power but it has already acquired great power autism.

– A sentence from the highlights of a conference organised by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service on China. To this layman, the metaphor of “great power autism” – autism being a condition characterised by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people – seems so apt.

Sharon sounded prepared to be bored.

– A line about a tone I could so readily imagine, from Ovidia Yu‘s Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights, Aunty Lee being a latter-day counterpart to and hybrid of Miss Marple (her well-intentioned social interventions) and Nero Wolfe (her being a gourmand).

“What was truly surprising for me,” Donahue said, “was going into a space that was ancient, and to crawl around the ceiling and look at the walls and realize that they were looking at things acoustically. It wasn’t just about the architecture. They had these big jugs that were put up there to sip certain frequencies out of the air … They built diffusion, a way to break up the sound waves by putting striations in the walls. They were actively trying to tune the space.”

– A quote from Adrienne LaFrance’s Hearing the Lost Sounds of Antiquity, published in The Atlantic on 19 Feb 2016. The article is about researchers trying to understand the acoustics of ancient churches, and the person being quoted is one of the researchers who studied how the physical design of churches affected their acoustics. Another superbly evocative metaphor: jugs, which themselves are vessels of liquid, sipping frequencies out of the air. Wow. (P/S. People actually talk like that! PP/S. Although LaFrance could have interviewed Donahue over email. PPP/S. Still!)

It’s been a while…

So the other day, a couple of days after my pal’s wedding, it occurred to me that Christmas was in a week’s time. Christmas hasn’t crept up on me like that in many years. I thought about why this year it did. And I think it was because the pace at work has been unrelenting – I have not had the space of mind to be more than who I am at work; have not had the space of mind to read like I used to; have not had the space of mind to write like this even – and because life has sucked, to use a technical term. And of course, skimming back, the sentence I just wrote appears to be nothing but excuses, even to me. I just got lazy. It happens.

Still, on my best days, I want the me who liked to write and to read back. Today happens to be one of those days, and I’ll start a streak with this first post in a while.

My pal’s wedding was last Saturday. There was a bit at the church, then a second bit at a lunch event at a hotel. The church bit was not far from what I had expected, which is to say that it was self-righteous and patriarchal, and very far from comfortable for a hardened atheist. And as I was sitting there thinking about whether the designers of this church had tried to achieve a stained-glass effect by having the church’s tall, narrow windows fitted with tessellated glass, and listening to the soothing hymns and some utterly sanctimonious preaching (to be fair, it was only from this one chap who should have kept his mouth fully shut), someone close to me who was having trouble buying an HDB flat because of who she loved and surgery she had started an angry SMS exchange with me. All in all, a surreal experience. And endurable, because my pal looked radiant in her wedding dress, and so happy.

The weekend before that, I attended the Tanya Chua concert with said pal and her beau. My conclusions: Tanya does not need bass-heavy accompaniment or light-shows which require epilepsy warnings, both of which were unfortunately present at the concert, to draw crowds; Tanya does a mean cover of Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be”, while Kit Chan – who made a mildly awkward guest appearance – probably has too high a voice to do it the same justice; that the light show was unnecessary does not mean it was crap – there was an effect which somehow created a tunnel to the audience, so that we could see Tanya at the end of said tunnel, and that was quite cool; Tanya can sing – that is all.

Two weekends before that, I attended the Emi Fujita concert. It did not take long for me to realise that, seated where I was, at a booth above and slightly behind the pianist, I could see his song-list. At first, it seemed as though I would not be able to make out the exact words, but it turned out that I did not need to – the length of the words in each song title and the look of the characters in the words told me enough. Every song was at least a minor classic and familiar, and Emi Fujita sang each in her slow, slightly mispronounced way, which unexpectedly got me to focus on the lyrics, many of which then struck me as absolutely brilliant. For example, Dan Fogelberg’s Longer has “Through the years, as the fire starts to mellow, burning lines in the book of our lives; though the binding cracks and the pages start to yellow, I’ll be in love with you”; the entirety of Bette Midler’s The Rose; and Judy Garland’s First of May has “When I was small, and Christmas trees were tall, we used to love while others used to play; don’t ask me why, but time has passed us by, someone else moved in from far away”. Around the mid-point of the concert, Emi Fujita left the stage to her guitarist, a chap named Shun Komatsubara, who then played this tune, and opened my eyes to a different type of guitar-playing altogether – both hands close together, finer control than I thought possible. And so the concert went on, until I realised that even the songs for the encore were listed in the pianist’s song-list – which validated one of my long-time assumptions, that any pretense that encores were impromptu was mere stagecraft – and so I could leave early and beat the crowd knowing I wouldn’t be very keen on the last song.

Many months ago now, I dreamt that I swallowed a sparrow. For a long while I tried to cough it out, but it remained lodged, feathery but substantial fluttering buffeting the space between my throat and my chest. Then I woke up. Maybe I ate too much. (Story of my life.)

Hero, and more from the list of stuff I’ve been wanting to blog about

I watched Hero with a friend at the theatre today. My friend had a craving for popcorn, and the movie was as fluffy as the popcorn that the friend got. There was no danger to the protagonist or anyone I cared for, and no danger that the culprit would get away, and so the movie kept my attention because it was like an extra-long episode of a cherished TV series, and I had wanted to spend more time with the characters, who were all so reliably themselves (even though I barely remembered all but the most prominent). And later, at an unremarkable cafe very near my place, my pal and I discussed the difference between Japanese dramas and Korean dramas, which have taken over the place of the former in many TV viewers’ hearts. My pal said that the good Japanese dramas (those shown in Singapore anyway) tend to be episodic, with characters who stay in their roles and do not develop, while Korean dramas – though formulaic in that the people who matter are always inter-related in some often perverse way – tell stories better than Japanese dramas. I wonder what sort of love stories the Japanese make nowadays.


I got hooked onto this story/song a while back – a long time ago, back when I was living in Bishan. It’s about a forlorn and steadfast and ultimately fruitless wait. Condensed in these few minutes is much more than the contents of many movies.


This song, I got introduced to more recently, indirectly by the pal who took a class in which she was introduced to Joni Mitchell. I had thought “A Case of You” referred to some illness or affliction – like a case of rabies. Recently I realised that Joni Mitchell was comparing “You” to a case of wine. So, addiction then. She has an amazing way of performing the song, strumming that zither-like string instrument in her blithe way, but I think my favourite version is Diana Krall’s.

This is the same Diana Krall of course (I never get tired of telling this story) who had an outdoors concert in Singapore on the weekend of the first F1 race ever held here. The concert was in Fort Canning, on the Friday, when qualifications or test drives took place. On the evening of the concert, the rain had stopped an hour or so earlier, and the field in front of the erected stage was muddy and the collapsible chairs just about in their rows. And that was when I learned that yes, the zooming whines of each and every car at the Padang could be heard all the way at Fort Canning, the aggravation and discordance of each squealing squelch of tyres somehow made worse by the distance. Possibly because of this, Ms Krall was not happy. At one point, she said something along the lines of, I think I just swallowed a bug, and I’m not even kidding. I can’t quite remember what she sang that evening.


The coffee in the cafe was quite mediocre – too milky.


The latest indication that I’ve been reading via the smartphone too much, in addition to (a) turning to the next page of a magazine made from wood pulp by sliding the edge of the current page and (b) looking at the top of the page to see the current time, is that, reading a Chinese book by this Taiwanese singer/poet strewn with her photographs, when I saw one I wished was larger, the first thing that came to my mind was to double-tap it to enlarge.


Had passable beef noodles – well, actually the beef and beef soup were passable and I didn’t really eat the noodles – at LeNu for lunch, but I may have been slightly unfair, since I had just had some superb Mum-cooked Hokkien noodles (thick rings of fresh sotong, succulent shrimp, thin strips/slices of pork belly, yellow noodles and thin rice vermicelli, stir-fried to perfection in some prawn stock and stuff) around 10am. The beef noodles, and the friend’s enthusiastic recommendations about Taipei food, got me sort of keen (that’s the extent of my passion these days) to head to Taiwan soon. I remember Taiwan from several visits in uniform half a life ago, and a more recent trip during which I discovered one of my five favourite places in the world (another is Monterey Bay Aquarium): an eslite bookstore, open till late, woody and welcoming of browsers, a reminder of when I was curiouser and less weighed down by self-imposed loads, altogether younger.

The day after the Jimmy Ye concert

NB. Inspired by the many “The day after GE2015” articles on The Middle Ground, a great source of information and considered opinion and sights and sounds during the hustings.


I had been looking forward to the Jimmy Ye concert since I knew Polling Day was set for 11 September.* At the very least the bunch of us going for the concert would have the election results to discuss at dinner before we took our seats.** One among the bunch had been so conflicted about how to vote that a powwow dinner was convened on a weekday evening the week of the elections. Another had described himself as upset and disappointed with the results. And a third had apparently taken to depressed (read: binge) eating after it was clear the non-ruling parties had not advanced. Being both almost embarrassingly pro-establishment and a firm admirer of certain Machiavellian measures*** the establishment employs, I was possibly the only one in the group who did not dislike the outcome, but I was still as surprised as heck.

I did not expect Jimmy Ye – who turned out to be a banterer of the first order, with only a notional filter between his mouth and mind – to “politicise” the concert. He said that he had started rehearsing the previous day right after voting, and it emerged that this was until 11pm, and he still had no idea about the election results. I personally did not think that credible, but really, except for the story, he had no reason to fib. And so, not knowing how the votes had fallen, he dedicated a song to the elections – 就让你选择, which translates to “Just let you choose”. That got us to link every subsequent song to the elections in our minds, and soon after this song came one which we interpreted as the populace’s plea to the ruling party, or alternatively the PAP’s plea to the populace – 我总是听你说 (“I always listen to you”)**** – and then later he covered a song he composed the music for, which we read as a potential reaction of the alternative parties to the votes – 什么样的爱 (“What kind of love”)*****. Listen through the music videos through GE2015 filters and you’ll see what I mean :P

The concert started at 7.30pm and went on for four hours, with a 20-minute intermission, and romped through many songs. Jimmy Ye was prolific during the years he was in the industry (roughly 1994-1998), and it was only when he covered the songs some very well-known singers made hits that some of us realised he composed the music for them: e.g. Aaron Kwok’s 感情的事, Jacky Cheung’s 想和你去吹吹风, Leslie Cheung’s 左右手******, Jeff Chang’s 太想爱你.

He also sang a few songs from musicians he admired: JJ Lin’s 懂了*******, John Legend’s “All of me” and Billy Joel’s “And so it goes“. I thought he was at his best here, especially with the English songs – accompanying his lilting tenor with his own expressive and adroit piano playing; his rendition of “All of me” was spot on, and his “And so it goes” heartfelt.

*Before Polling Day was set, we all had to entertain the idea that we would have voted on the day of the concert. In that alternate reality, we would have been enjoying Jimmy Ye’s banter and falsetto (which was in fine form during the actual concert) and been spared the monotonous accuracy of the sample counts, and been struck by a dissonant world when we emerged from the 3G/4G/wireless-free concert hall.

**The concert was in the outstanding and intimate Esplanade auditorium, and our seats were in the last row upstairs, and we had a great view. I now actively entertain the notion that every seat in that auditorium is a good seat.

***Machiavellian from the perspective that the real concern of the ruling is to maintain power.

****Excerpts of lyrics, and attempted translations:

我总是听你说从不敢让你的心失落 I always listen to you, never dare to let you down

我把寂寞都放在看不见的角落 I keep my loneliness in the unseen corners

因为你说我一定有个快乐生活 Because you say I will have a happy life

我总是听你说从不去想你也许只是经过 I always listen to you, never think that you may just be passing by

有时后委屈疲倦也不敢对你说 Even when I’m put upon and tired I don’t dare to tell you

可是你还是说我让你伤心难过 But you still say I make you sad

你要我怎么做 我总是听你说 What do you want me to do, I always listen to you

可是你从来不愿意面对真正的我 But you never wished to face the real me

每次我思索 每次我疑惑 Every time I think, every time I am puzzled

到底你真正在乎的是些什么 What really matters to you

你要我怎么做 我总是听你说 What do you want me to do, I always listen to you

可是我纷乱的情绪你有没有懂过 But did you ever know my confused emotions

每次的执著 每次的失措 Every conviction, every confusion

这一次我们的眼神又在交错 This time our eyes meet again

已分不清到底是谁对谁要求那么多 Can no longer tell who is right, who is wrong, who is asking for so much

*****Excerpts of lyrics, and attempted translations:

请你别只是望着窗口 什么都不说 Please do not just look at the window and stay silent

曾经你要我付出所有 现在你却说只要自由 In the past you wanted me to give my all, and now you say you want freedom

所有的对为何变成错 伤心的我只想问 All that was right has become wrong, and saddened I only want to ask

什么样的爱 你才懂 什么样的我 才能让你感动 What kind of love would you know, what kind of me would let you be moved

我的爱难道还不够 不够让你沉溺到永久 Is my love not enough? Cannot let you stay immersed forever

什么样的爱 你才懂 什么样的我 才能圆你的梦 What kind of love would you know, what kind of me would fulfill your dreams

再也不会有人像我 像我痴心爱你不回头 There will never be someone like me, deeply in love with you with no regrets

******Hacken Lee’s version is much better, to these ears. There is more than a smidgen of Leslie in there though, I think as tribute.

*******Basically a re-lyricised version of A-mei’s 记得, which JJ Lin also covered. Found the latter overwrought, with too many heartstrings-tugging tricks.


To me, the most significant reaction to the GE2015 results was surprise.

Why did we* not expect the results? The notion of the content silent majority – who do not trumpet their views, which are therefore not taken into account in the assessment of voters’ sentiments – has been raised. I’m personally not sure this silent majority** exists; I’d say we are not even taking into account the right data – for example, what if we took posts of good food and happy babies doing cute stuff as indicators of contentment? I also think our ability to forecast the results is hampered by our homophilic tendencies, which have ensconced us in our individual echo chambers, so that any result outside of our expectations (and those of our in-group) would seem unreal.***

The results definitely seemed unreal to those who had worked so hard in anticipation of a different outcome – see particularly Kenneth Jeyaratnam’s comparison of the voting margins to those in North Korea and China**** and Tan Jee Say’s observation that the results were different from feedback that SingFirst had heard from the ground.

While I did not expect the results, the election outcome made sense. I thought the incumbent addressed all the negative feedback they got and neutralised any hot-button issues before these could escalate in a decisive, high-profile manner. The electorate – those whom they could sway at all – could hardly respond in another way in the absence of markedly superior alternatives. The margin of the swing still boggles the mind though. I hope the spirit of public engagement that has arguably driven the swing continues now that the fresh mandate is in hand.

*Referring to the general “we” – no party, no media, no analyst, no individual seems to have predicted such results.

**There is definitely a majority who do not attend rallies. That’s not going to stop folks from taking rally attendance as an indicator of voter sentiments though.

***Feeling that results are unreal is OK, unless of course the unrealness prompts one to take what could seem to be a reasonable next step in logic, and start theorising that the election process is not entirely aboveboard or even rigged. And complacent ol’ me thought few if any would entertain such conspiracy theories, until a couple of friends said their circles were propounding exactly these theories. We thinking folks should be disciplinedly broad in our consumption of media, so that we have a more accurate sense of the world.

****Transcript of the relevant part of the interview below. The comparison to China and North Korea, while not appropriate to my mind, has I think been a little sensationalised, so I leave the exact words here for folks to make up their own mind.

CNA reporter: Mr Jeyaratnam, now that the sample count has been out for quite a few of the constituencies, your thoughts on the sample count?

Kenneth Jeyaratnam: Well, obviously, you know, we were aware from the beginning that… we saw this coming, because we didn’t get the big influx of volunteers and helpers coming forward that we got in 2011. In fact it was very quiet… and we saw basically… we put this down to the novelty wearing off , of the new party, but now I see it’s absolutely nationwide. There’s been a huge swing to the PAP. We weren’t helped by the fact that we lost Clementi, a ward in which we scored particularly highly in the last election. What I can say is that this is not a, as far as I’m concerned, this is not a mandate for the PAP’s economic policies. We had a better manifesto, a better economic plan. All this is, is a mandate for authoritarianism and brainwashing. It shows what you do when you control everybody’s housing, you control their savings, you control their jobs because you’re the major employer, you control all the media, and there’s no independent elections department. So all I see is similar margins in North Korea and China, just like the Chinese Communist Party. You know, I guess Singaporeans get the government they deserve, so I don’t want to hear any more complaints. Yup.

CNA reporter: Thank you very much, Mr Jeyaratnam.


By the way, aren’t the name of this academic paper and its three-word abstract just winning? :) Must say I agree with the attitude, if not necessarily the point and that only because I don’t know enough about the context. Definitely worth a read.


A friend does qualitative research: focus groups, ethnography, in-depth interviews. My humble opinion is that she does them very competently. One bedevilment researchers like her have to face is stubborn or just ostensibly opinion-less/insight-less interview subjects. The researcher has to know how to ask questions, the right questions to ask, and, when the subject looks like he/she is remaining clammed up or just has no insight to offer, whether to probe further. The qualitative researcher friend compared such interviews to excavating a durian. Those of us who still excavate durians know that the segments of durian where the flesh resides are not always obvious. It is possible to pry open a split chunk of durian and discover no segment, or a segment too small to contain flesh, or a sizeable enough segment that nonetheless does not contain flesh, but when one cuts into the thick thorny rind and the incision sinks smoothly into a natural seam, and the levering of the knife opens a hitherto unreachable nugget of creamy goodness, one shares the same sense of accomplishment with the interviewer who probed persistently and finally, fruitfully.


I also watched December Rains during its run late last month. I had been worried it was going to be indulgent and light on plot and substance, with shrill singing, which was how I remembered its previous staging in 2010. I enjoyed this year’s staging much more.

This year’s Ming Li – the third protagonist and one could argue the ultimate antagonist as his one act drove the plot – was a more vulnerable version: the actor playing him was of a smaller stature than the other male lead and competing love interest Ying Xiong, and hence easier to see as a passive victim of his unrequited sentiments, whereas in the 2010 staging the two male leads were more equal. I also thought both male leads this year sung spectacularly well.

I found the friendship between the three female leads more moving this time around. Reunited after many years, the materialistic one had married and divorced a rich man and become the owner of a restaurant; the romantic one had become embittered because of a perceived betrayal of her love and clenched her heart shut all these years; and the revolutionary one had sailed from Singapore to China to take part in the Cultural Revolution, but was now with a drama troupe, her zeal much tempered.

The years had not eroded their friendship. That’s an ideal one can aspire to.


On the 30th of May, I was in Starbucks, on my usual coffee run, except this was a Saturday and I had to be at work for some reason. There was a lady ahead of me in the queue, and she had on a shoulderless long-sleeved top and jeans, and in between was warm milk chocolate. Burnished with bronze. But maybe that is not what I meant; I didn’t mean metallic, but more a healthy inner glow, like the best sort of tan.

I’m trying to fix that colour in my memory. In a year, I wonder what colour I will remember it as, and whether it will be as ineffable, and whether that will matter.