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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Stuff I’ve found interesting lately

It’s been a long time since I last wrote here. Gonna take a while to get the gears smooth and the voice back. Anyhow, here’s some stuff I’ve enjoyed / found interesting in the last few months.

1. Depot, a great little eatery on Federal Street in New Zealand

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Potato skins at Depot. Heartily crunchy.
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Mussels, grilled in their juice, with croutons. Too few.

2. Gone Girl, a casually callous thriller with a characters I want to see more of

3. Hi, I’m Liz – animals and corniness – deadly combo. I especially liked narwhal vs. beluga.

4. How the experience of driving has changed – when I was younger, I didn’t care so much about the mortality of others.

5. The nature of friendship, the closeness built up over time and the sloughing off of judgement and extra expectations.

6. Introducing more people to arrowhead chips :)

7. This nerdy economics comic, which I will understand in about eleventeen more weeks.

8. How easy it is to feel worthless at work, from a loss of autonomy brought about by not being familiar with a new portfolio.

9. How long it’s been since I’ve had Nestle Crunch until I had it on a recent flight, and how sweet it is now compared to the perfect bite of milk chocolate and rice crisps I remember it as.

10. How satisfying it is to read books again. For some reason, though I’ve kept on buying books, I had lost the motivation to really read. When it started, I stopped reading fiction, except for genre fiction of a certain predictability. Then, I dropped that and my most challenging reading material became non-fiction books, easier to absorb in small distanced sittings. Then I dropped even non-fiction books, and for some months relied entirely on news and other snippets pulled to my screen via RSS. My favourite explanation for this progression is that my pool of attention was being squeezed dry at work, and only replenished during the weekends. Not sure if that’s true, but the year-end spate of public holidays helped to restore some of that resource, whatever it was, and I’m very happy to be back among the book-readers.

11. The Progress Principle. And from the notes inside that book, this paper. The key insight is that progress in one’s work life is more important than many other factors used to motivate performance.

12. If you listen to podcasts and are curious, 99% Invisible has to be on your list. It’s refreshing, wonderfully produced and endlessly thought-provoking. Episode 67 – about a broken window which haunted the window-breaker for years and years – is a recent favourite.

clever!

I saw a few things I thought were clever.

One was a device placed over a sink.  It holds a bar of soap.  Below the soap is a grater, and you can use it to scrape soap shavings onto your hand when you want a quick wash.  I think that’s really smart, and economical and environmentally friendly :)

Soap flakes (from urban taster)

Another was this interview with Sherry Turkle that Fast Company did.  Sherry Turkle is an ethnographer who studies how people interact with technology, and has written about it in her new book “Alone Together”.  Her words convey her research findings in a very genuine and accurate way.  She speaks of how the speed and frequency of incoming information have led us to shorten our interactions with others, that “[w]e’re not necessarily putting our investment in the ties that bind; we’re putting our investment in the ties that preoccupy”.  She speaks about how the metaphor of addiction is misused when we apply it to our relationship with technology, which is abundantly useful when used “in accordance with [one’s] social, professional, and personal values”.  She speaks of how this relationship with technology has created a “constant connection”, via social media or always-on email, which results in a sense of loneliness when one is not connected – the connection is the drug one could get addicted to then, maybe? – and a loss of the capability to be alone without being lonely.

And another was Laura Schroeder’s blog post about why people would work for House, everyone’s favourite brilliant misanthrope doctor, and even hang around after they’re kicked off the team.  (I appreciated the post so much partly because I’m a huge Hugh Laurie fan, from Blackadder The Third times :p)  She comes up with a very plausible answer :)

Oh, and this game too was I thought clever.  Trailer for your viewing pleasure below.

How to be alone

I came across this video of Tanya Davis’s performance of her poem “How to be alone”, and found some of its combinations of turns of phrase wonderfully lyrical, and I just had to listen to it and transcribe it here [with the very occasional comment in square brackets]. 

If you are at first lonely, be patient.  If you haven’t been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait.  You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it.

We could start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library.  Where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there.  Where you can browse the stacks and smell the books.  You’re not supposed to talk much anyway so it’s safe there

There’s also the gym.  If you’re shy you can hang out with yourself and mirrors, you can put headphones in.

And there’s probably transportation, because we all got to go places.

And there’s prayer and meditation, no one will think less if you’re hanging with your breath seeking peace and salvation.

Start simple.  Things you may have previously avoided based on your “avoid being alone principles”.

The lunch counter, where you’ll be surrounded by chow-downers, employees that only have an hour and their spouses work across town and so they, like you, will be alone.

Resist the urge to hang out with your cell-phone.

When you’re comfortable with “eat lunch and run”, take yourself to dinner.  A restaurant with linen and silverware.  You’re no less intriguing a person when you are eating solo dessert and cleaning the whipped cream from the dish with your finger.  In fact, some people at full tables will wish they were where you were.

Go to the movies, where it’s dark and soothing.  Alone in your seat amidst the fleeting community.

And then, take yourself out dancing, to a club where no one knows you.  Stand on the outside on the floor until the lights convince you more and more and the music shows you.  Dance like no one’s watching because they’re probably not.  And, if they are, assume it’s with the best human intentions.  The way bodies move genuinely to beats is, after all, gorgeous and affecting.

Dance until you’re sweating and beads of perspiration remind you of life’s best things.  Down your back like a brook of blessings. [Goodness what a turn of phrase :)]

Go to the woods alone, and the trees and squirrels will watch for you.

Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets, there are always statues to talk to, and benches made for sitting give strangers a shared existence, if only for a minute.  These moments can be so uplifting and the conversations you get in sitting alone on benches might have never happened had you not been there by yourself.

Society is afraid of alone though.  Like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements.  Like people must have problems if, after a while, nobody is dating them.

Well lonely is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless.  And lonely is healing if you make it.  You could stand, swathed, by groups and mobs, or hold hands with your partner, look both further and farther in the endless quest for company.  But no one’s in your head, and by the time you translate your thoughts some essence may be lost, or perhaps it is just kept.

Perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, perhaps all those sappy slogans from preschool over to high-school’s groaning were tokens for holding the lonely at bay.

‘Cause if you are happy in your head, then solitude is blessed, and alone is okay.

It’s okay if no one believes like you.  All experience is unique, no one has the same synapses, can’t think like you.  For this, be relieved, keeps things interesting, life’s magic things in reach.

And it doesn’t mean you are not connected, that community’s not present, just take the perspective you get from being one person in one head and feel the effects of it.

Take silence and respect it.  If you have an art that needs practice stop neglecting it.  If your family doesn’t get you or if a religious sect is not meant for you, don’t obsess about it.

You could be, in an instant, surrounded if you need it.

If your heart is bleeding, make the best of it.

There’s heat in freezing, be a testament.  [Interesting ending.  A tad rushed and disjointed, I thought.]

web pages that recently entertained me

Spectacular new species [National Geographic]

The surprising realities behind what motivates us, in cartoons [Lifehacker]

A cool blog for a cool bookshop (which I hope to visit someday) [BooksActually]

And something else which recently entertained me was this “Power Women” concert I went to with my pal and her sister and her former work neighbour.  A great review of the concert is here (in Chinese).*  I think the new business model for the popular music industry – generating revenue mainly from concerts – is great for us fans, who can now see our favourites perform “live” more often than we ever dreamed possible.  One can only hope that the increased frequency of what used to be rare events motivates the powers that be to improve the sound fidelity of large venues or to shift some concerts, for certain singers, to more suitable environs (I recommend the Esplanade).

*Although I am too lazy to write a complete review of the concert, I wanted to just say that, while I was looking forward to 万芳’s songs the most (I know them and love them best), the most entertaining part of the concert for me was 黄小琥’s banter with us.  I liked how she said in mock proper English, “My name is Yellow Little Tiger” and earlier in the piece announced her next song as “昨天玩什么” (i.e. “Yesterday once more”). 

I think this is really cool

Universal Packaging System by Patrick Sung 

(I’d recommend reading the comments to the post as well – one of the comments included a suggestion on removing the word “system” from the product name, which I thought was a great suggestion, and another suggestion on marketing the product by playing with the phrasing “this side up”, which I thought could certainly work as it would emphasise that, for users of this product, all sides are up :)

april fool

I read this Guardian story until the part where we learn that, in the new elections campaign based on Gordon Brown’s bully boy image, the plan is to have the British PM deck David Cameron during a televised debate and send him swiftly to hospital where the reliable and efficient healthcare system under Labour would be showcased.  That got me to think, in quick succession: the British would *not* buy this; and how did Guardian reporters find out about this?; the whole thing’s improbable; something’s wrong here… and then it struck me that it was April Fools’ Day, and I scrolled up the page and sure enough, Olaf Priol had written the piece.

In the earlier parts of the story, I had thought that the campaign idea – that some British folks would be bought over by the idea of having a bully boy PM, and that the politicians would have that notion to tap on this segment – was sad and a sign of the times.  It was only until I thought that something this big would be better hidden that I realised its improbability.

So, instinctively, not only did I not doubt the idea’s authenticity, I did not doubt the idea’s effectiveness.  And the plausibility of the joke, and the way the story ratcheted up its outrageousness factor, got me whooping audibly in delight, at about eight in the morning, while I was having breakfast at my office desk, reading the Guardian online.

P/S.  I also enjoy the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcasts.

PP/S.  I do think the fact that I thought the campaign plausible and possibly effective is quite disturbing.  For Britain or for me, I’m not so sure.