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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Miscellany

I love Diana Krall’s cover of “Just the way you are”. I find that it shares its sentiment of an abiding reassurance to one’s longtime and maybe somewhat inevitably neglected loved one with a Chinese song – 黄韵玲’s 喜欢你现在的样子 (the song name translates to something like “Like how you are now”).

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A couple of concepts that struck a chord with me:

1. Cesar Hidalgo’s idea of “personbyte” i.e. the full person’s worth of knowledge, which I came across reading Tim Harford’s post about the importance of harnessing teamwork and collaboration in today’s complex economies.

2. Resume virtues vs. eulogy virtues

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Bought my pal durian a week or so ago. Made my week when she and her family enjoyed them.

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I recently saw a pillion-rider scrolling through her smartphone while the motorcycle she was on weaved through some sedate traffic. That is some serious addiction, I thought. Plus my own smartphone is too oily for me to confidently do that. Then another time I passed by Chong Pang in a cab. This was either early morning or late, late in the evening. The shops were closed. Under the dark sky, silhouetted against the fluorescent white of the HDB corridors, was a man lying on his back on a bench. His face was aglow with the light from his smartphone, which he looked up at, rapt.

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I came across this line in a 陈绮贞 book: 生活习性越来越肖似的恋人. Loosely translated, the line means lovers whose habits become more and more alike. And I got to thinking about my pal and her soon-to-be-husband.

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Watched Hail, Caesar! and Deadpool within a few days of each other. Both were entertaining, but while Hail, Caesar! had an intriguing mystery and fun set-pieces and some engrossing acting, Deadpool had a heart. An incorrigibly tasteless, good-for-nothing bum-with-a-sex-joke-a-second sort of heart, but a heart nonetheless. I enjoyed Deadpool more.

Kit Chan and emptying out my “to be blogged about” folder

I watched Kit Chan sing last Saturday, and there are seven things I remember from the concert.

1. She started with a slightly trancey version of 担心, which was highly unsatisfactory, since that song is in the top three of my favourite Kit Chan songs when sung like it was originally sung.

2. She sang both the Chinese and English versions of Home, and the arrangement managed to be more soothing than emotional, and maybe it was also because it was sort of at the unremarkable two-third (?) point of the concert, but my friend who said that she would cry at the concert and think of Mr Lee if Kit Chan sang Home did not. The bits of white lights studded throughout the sellout crowd waving along as she sang made a real spectacle though. There was to be no real climax during the whole concert.

3. She was super-comfortable with the audience, chill and relaxed, never more than when she sang Marilyn Monroe’s My Heart Belongs to Daddy, which, Kit Chan recounted, her secondary school teacher persuaded her and her fellow songstresses from school to perform (with the appropriate moves apparently) at a fundraising event in front of many older guys. She thought it was a little off.

4. She sang 是谁在敲打我窗 是谁在撩动琴弦 (I can’t remember now if she sang more than this, but definitely at least these two lines). At the next interval (the concert was peppered with banter, very enjoyable), she explained that after watching the scene in which Tony Leung and Andy Lau share a *moment* listening to these two lines, she had been wanting to sing just these two lines at her concert someday.

5. She also sang 天冷就回来; Leslie Cheung’s 左右手 and ; Stefanie Sun’s 尚好的青春; Jacky Cheung’s 原来只要共你活一天. And once the usual concert issues like over-loud instruments wore off and her voice warmed up, she sang so well.

6. She sang 我真的爱错 perfectly, and I rediscovered that I love the song, the lilting tenor bits accompanied by the sad lonely guitar strums. My friend smiled so widely when she announced it was her next song, and sat back to enjoy it.

7. So, even though she has many more-than-listenable songs and even I’d say more outstanding covers, one of her songs stays in my brain, partly because it’s so dramatic and partly because the lyrics conjure an image of someone luxuriating in the emptiness of her lost love (drama right?). And at this point somewhere in the middle of her concert, she started talking about a type of song called 芭喇歌, which are essentially ballads, and there is a type of song which is essentially a ballad, but with tightly packed words sung in a 洒狗血 (spray dog blood, literally) fashion. So I took this type of song to mean a power ballad basically overflowing with drama, which was why I was not so surprised when that turned out to be the preamble for my favourite Kit Chan song 炫耀. And she sang it the way I wanted it to be sung.

Not about the Kit Chan concert

I really enjoyed how 江美琪’s fans made her cry/sing/shine in this video.

A couple more songs from the senseless score of my life, plucked from my half-awake mind as I zombie-lurch to the bathroom at 6am:

4 December 2014 – 龙卷风

26 March 2015 – 春娇与志明

And one day in April, on the 7th to be exact, my dad made for our dining pleasure some soup with duck and salted vegetables and tomatoes which was yummy, and a potato and sliced pork stir-fried in brown gravy which he had been improving. I am a very fortunate son.

I’ve amassed quite a few tumblers in my time at work, some I bought, some colleagues gave. I don’t use them, preferring to use a CNA mug. That’s a quite a few – which, surprise surprise, means the same as quite a lot – of tumblers I don’t use i.e. vessels I don’t fill, which immediately got me thinking about how substanceless I maybe am.

9 thoughts I had while I was not blogging

1. [22 September] So today, in my fourth week in emy new department, which is one floor down on the sixth floor, I pressed 7 in the lift. Apparently a muscle memory built up over the last two years takes over when I’m in automaton mode.

2. [In a cab on the way to work, passing by Yishun Avenue 1 going towards the expressway, looking left] The clouds today are like fog-shrouded hilltops seen from a nearby peak. One can see which is nearer, and which further, and the nearest one actually looks approachable.

3. [About a coffee start-up near the workplace; I will call it X] The coffee in X really isn’t very good – this is after trying maybe 20-plus lattes from the place, generally around 8 in the morning, when sometimes I’d see my friend’s mum alight from her other daughter’s car – in particular compared to lattes from Symmetry (the only food I’ve tried from the place is the crispy baby squid – it looks cute written like that, not in the least edible – and it’s so good).

4. [About my normal day, and the song-list in my head) My alarm is set for 6.05am. I usually wake up a bit earlier than that. When I actually get off my bed and zombie-slouch-walk my way to wash up, there is usually a song in my head. For a few weeks it was the same 许茹芸 song. On 24 September, it was 那些年. The next day, the One Night in Beijing chorus caught me unawares. And on 26 September it was – I took a while to pin it down, my brain was playing only snatches – Pharrell Williams’ Happy. And today, it was the music accompanying this FANTASTIC and violent fight scene in 杀破狼.

5. [On my first MRT ride in some weeks] I had forgotten what it is like to ride the MRT as a routine – there are people you expect to see, and stories you begin to make up about them. The harried mum with two always sleepy, always not-quite-kempt children, the boy with a repaired cleft lip who is more tolerant than his older sister of his mother’s nudges to wake up when they reach Bishan. From this, my brother and I thought their family situation must be difficult. But I do not think of them during that MRT ride, because I see a motorcycle with lime-green spokes and it falls behind the MRT and I keep waiting for it to catch up.

6. [During a lull in a busy period in August] Huh – I haven’t changed the month on my calendar since May.

7. The nasi lemak from that corner stall at the Old People’s Park Food Centre is lousy.

8. But the nutella crepe – made by a lady from Saybons (I didn’t know they did catering) – is perfect.

9. A long time ago, I learnt about fastest plane in the world, faster than the F15 or the F16, with the highest cruising altitude: the Blackbird. And recently I came across this totally amazing story about someone who test-piloted this plane for a living.

Salt Lake City and flakes of snow I did not see

In Salt Lake City, I saw no lakes, but I did see a gray day, mist descending upon the streets, and a bright day, with smears of clouds and sun-rays that made the cold crisp and clear, and the colder aftermath of a storm I’d slept through, stained sidewalks and puddles and gusts of condensed breaths, all from the inside of the hotel, the most luxurious I’ve ever stayed at, where my colleagues and I met with other folks and talked and talked.

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These days I seem to only read proper books during my work trips. I finished two and a half of them this time round. One was Kathleen Jamie’s collection of essays, one of which was about a trip to see auroras and which I thought was a work of beauty, something I literally gasped at, and which was generous, because she described stuff in a way that made me think, she really wants you to see and feel what she does. I want you to read it and take it in in all its context and be happy, but I also want to share a bit of it with you, so here’s a bit of it:

Luminous green, teal green, the aurora borealis glows almost directly overhead. It intensifies against the starry night like breath on a mirror, and it moves. Across the whole sky from east to west, the green lights shift and alter. Now it’s an emerald veil, now with a surge it remakes itself into a swizzle which reach toward some far-away place in the east.

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Apart from being a stunningly lyrical essayist, Kathleen Jamie is also a poet. And talking about poets, I found one, I can’t remember whom or where from, but I found a good one who writes about commonplace things and is supremely accessible. (This makes a difference to literalist me.) Check out Billy Collins, and his poem The Lanyard. I enjoyed how the poem sort of does a slow little pirouette to end off.

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And this year, I also discovered Ken Liu and his stories which often mix in some aspect of Chinese typography or myth or history to poignant effect. How wonderful, that some of them are freely available. Like Mono no aware. (Gravity fans (i.e. those who like the movie starring Bullock and Clooney, not those who ensure the feel of weight) should especially enjoy it. I wouldn’t know – I haven’t watched Gravity yet.)

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A couple of months back, I heard a song on the radio. It was a sad Chinese pop ballad, and at first I could not place the familiar voice. Then it hit a clear high note, and I realised it was 张信哲. When I got over the voice, these lyrics stayed with me.

飞机起飞之后 我的笑容永不再相同 (After the plane lifts off, my smile will no longer be the same)

Somehow, in Chinese, it’s more poetic.

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This year, I discovered many many things about myself. One of these is that I always ruin my candles. You know, those that fill up jars? I always drop matches in them, or add in potpourri petals and bits to see how they would smell burnt, or the wick would shorten to an untenable length. Then, the candles get neglected and then the neglect becomes abandonment.

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Also quite recently, I heard the first few piano plonks of Jewel’s Foolish Games, and immediately knew what song it was and remembered that I hadn’t heard it for many yonks, that it had been big when I was in my first year of university and that I had thought the world of its lyrics and her singing. Listening to it this time, Jewel sounded strident and pretentious, instead of raw and heartfelt. I don’t think the song has aged well.

Or maybe it’s my taste that hasn’t.

 

Death, YouTube meandering and not liking the part of me that looks down on dwarfs

Recently, a local TV star died. He was 60. I’ve stopped watching television for a while now, so I hadn’t seen him in anything recently, but to read that he is still best remembered for a role he played in a 1984 series struck me as sad – to have one’s life in the 30 years since that show reduced to unmentioned irrelevance – and then made me think about how there is no truly adequate way to memorialise any life, and surely no one same way all those who knew him would remember him.

His death was a reminder of mortality, like so many things are nowadays for me. To me, 60 is just about the age one could arguably say people start to die because they are old. As in, you wouldn’t be surprised if someone died, at 60. That was in my mind. And then I remembered that my parents were into their 60s. Of course I had known that before, even made a big do of their 60th birthdays. But the death of this actor – whose defining role was an experience my parents and I shared when I was still limited to a world they curated for me – was a more forceful reminder.

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I went YouTube meandering again last night, and found a Wilson Phillips playlist with four songs that I hadn’t heard in a bit and that I realised I could sing to. The songs are oh, about 24 years old.

And I also saw the ending to the Japanese drama series Overtime, again, and enjoyed revisiting what the show made me feel.

And I came across this gem of a cover of Journey’s Faithfully. A lot of these acoustic covers are so brilliant. Boyce Avenue – worth checking out.

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I started religiously following a podcast a while back – if you like tabletop role-playing, the sort of stuff where a “game-master” creates and manages a world for other players, you should really give Critical Hit a try – and recently I saw one of the folks on the podcast in a video and he appeared to me he might be a dwarf. That disturbed me. My instinct, I think (nice oxymoron sequence there), was a feeling of wrongness – he couldn’t be a dwarf, he’s part of this great podcast I enjoy so much! Then I thought, why can’t a dwarf be part of a great podcast? Anyway, I don’t like this part of me – the part that unthinkingly looks down on dwarfs.

Lazy

My favourite song at this exact set of moments is the slow version of 还是会寂寞, complete with violin and guitar sadness. A pal once said the song’s first line – 早已忘了想你的滋味是什么 – was a good description of my abidingly dumb (both in terms stupidity and muteness) daily keeping-in-my-mind of this girl.

I agreed then. Now that depth of feeling is beyond me. The other day, I realised that I am too lazy to be in love.

Awakening

Today, for the first time in a long time, I watched something with someone I hadn’t watched anything with before. The “something” was 贾宝玉 aka Awakening, a stage re-framing of 红楼梦 in which 贾宝玉 returns to re-live his travails in a modern-day 贾 household. It was entertaining and innovative in parts (especially the portions re-telling the key plot points in 红楼梦, which was useful for folks who haven’t read the Chinese classic e.g. me), but ultimately I found that it was uneven, with melodrama competing with near-evangelising of Buddhist concepts such as the cycle of secular suffering.

Still, I was moved by the sort-of twist near the end, when 贾宝玉 finds that his bride is 林黛玉 in this reality (in the original story, 林黛玉 was 贾宝玉’s true love, but, believing that 贾宝玉 and 薛宝钗 were the perfect match instead, 贾宝玉’s family tricks him into marrying her by switching brides, meaning the bride he eventually wed was 薛宝钗), which was well-resolved. (It was in fact so good that I would not be surprised that the play crystallised with this gem at its core.)

One line in particular in the play stayed with me: “We come into this world alone and we leave this world alone.” (That’s paraphrased/translated from Chinese.) To live with a real appreciation of this is to live in a non-secular world. Sometimes I find myself veering into this territory, not caring to care, though more from a laziness of the heart than from an understanding that caring is suffering, and a while ago I tried to put this uncaring into words, and I realised that I do not want to be dependent on one person for an overly significant part of my happiness.

The other thing that stuck with me is a song from the play – you can view the music video here. (I wonder what the song would be like sung by someone with greater range than 何韵诗.)