Archive for June, 2005

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Batman Begins

June 27, 2005

Yes, Batman’s back with a suitably alliterative title. After 3 instalments that can at best be described as blah (dear god above, that anatomically correct suit, replete with abs and nipples!), finally we have a Batman that is decidedly decent. Director Christopher Nolan (of Memento) has created a Bruce Wayne whose humanity is striking and raw, and a Gotham whose decadent decrepitude is too close for comfort.

Christian Bale is wonderfully dark as the caped crusader. (He is also quite a tasty morsel, but that’s beside the point.) His portrayal of a fearful creature who must become the feared is beautifully believable. His need to excise his guilt provides an interesting counterpoint to the wider questions posited, those of justice, inequity, iniquity, revenge.

Wonderful also are the performances rendered by Michael Caine, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman. Caine is the impossibly stiff-upper-lip butler Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s closest confidante. His deadpan delivery hits the spot, and throws into relief the possibility of loyalty and friendship in a world torn apart by selfishness and self-interest. Liam Neeson is wholly credible as the evil Ras Al’Ghul: his wonderful sneakiness coming to a head at the end of the movie. Morgan Freeman, like Caine, deadpans his way through the movie and provides the necessary comic relief to punctuate and puncture the suffocating darkness of the movie.

Batman has always been the darkest of all the DC/Marvel comic superheroes. Without superpowers, he is merely human, and must needs rely on his cunning, his strength, himself, even as he contends against demons without and, more imortantly, confronts the demons within. Batman Begins has done well in illustrating this struggle of not only external evils but internal ills. And in this day and age of America looking outwards to guard against the unseen enemy, but not retreating inwards to solve the Gothamesque problems of poverty, crime and deprivation, it is time for us to take notice of what this movie implies.

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old friends

June 27, 2005

Sometimes old friends really are the best friends. My dear, dear Cheekeong. How long has it been since we’ve known each other? You say you cannot remember when you first got to know me proper: I, however, do. At orientation camp (a misnomer, since it did no orientation and served merely as an introduction to our world of cruelty) we were introduced but we did not know each other, I merely thought you were Malay. It was really on the second day of school proper, as we were filtering off to go for our French lessons at the language centre, that we started to talk: albeit, of course, awkwardly and most gauchely. Over fishball noodles, I believe. I was very fascinated by your living in Bishan and your maid who cooked pork with pineapples.

Six years on and we still mumble and bumble our ways through life and the strange fact of our friendship. The conversation is still stilted at times, but of course we have learnt to maneouvre our way through that: four years of being in the same class does weird things to very different people.

I thank you for never making a big deal of my sexuality: as always, with you, a blissful ignorance that does not betray your depth of character, your instinctive kindness, your pure generosity. Your inclination is to be good, something that I have not encountered too often, and something that we have too little of these days. If more were like yourself, the world would be a better place: a trite phrase which does not apply to many others, and certainly does not to myself. Thank you very much, Cheekeong. 🙂

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presenting Mimi

June 27, 2005

As we all know, I have been a secret Mariah fan for years now. So when The Emancipation of Mimi hit the stores, I was faced with an existentialist crisis. Should I support her despite her Glitter days in the gutter, or just not bother since, well, after that low point there wasn’t any point anymore. (Okay, fine. I lie. I don’t exactly think it was a low point, since Glitter had Through the Rain, which wasn’t all that bad, and Lead the Way, which was quite nice I think.)

So, I decided to be very clever-clever and download the album first to see if I liked it! Very perfect-information and all. Hail the internet.

Okay. It’s a great album. So I bought it in the end.

Now it’s great in the Mariah sense, i.e. it has nary a hint of irony and Mariah’s diva-madness shines through and through (and through the rain). A sample of lyrics include, from the first single released, It’s Like That: “I came to have a party/open up the Bacardi/feeling so hot tamale” and “it’s a special occasion/Mimi’s emancipation/a cause for celebration” and (this is the most indecipherable) “them chickens is ash and I’m lotion”. Very helpfully, she has included a dictionary definition of ’emancipation’ on the CD sleeve, which should be helpful to all those (such as, perhaps, herself) who did not originally know the meaning of the word. One up for Mariah spreading the joys of the vocabulary of the English language. By the way, Mimi isn’t, as one would expect, her kabbala name (e.g., Esther-Madonna), but her childhood name most intimate to her. So in effect, she’s making her comeback by showing us her most private side. Somewhat tautological.

Yet she is a reassuring presence on the album, whether judiciously unleashing her trademark airy scream, in typical vibrato, on Fly Like a Bird (yes, the track is unironically titled Fly Like a Bird. As opposed to flying like, say, an aeroplane, or a bat), or lending her vocals to the chill-esque Stay the Night featuring Jermaine Dupri. Mariah’s lungs-of-adamantium are at work once again, but this time she’s got back into the flow by realising that while balladesque un-un-unironic pieces lauding one’s own strength, beauty and courage may have done well in the past, they ain’t going to work now. Consequently she has given us an album full of cool collaborations, slick as it is polished. She hasn’t lost her skills though: as mentioned, her trademark airy scream is still there, as is her quite amazing range (the transposition on We Belong Together is considered conservative), and her neverending lung capacity: thank god for Mariah! Who beats those other teenyboppers hands down. Kelly “Gasp-at-every-opportunity-to-take-a-breath” Clarkson, Diana “Hurricane” DeGarmo, etc etc etc, eat your hearts out.

So yes. Emancipation has received rave reviews all the world over, and for good reason: Glitter was a gutter that no-one, save Mariah, could get herself out of.

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June 24, 2005

Friday night, 9.23pm and I’m at home in front of my laptop finding love – trying to find love. Hanging on to the silly hope that the next person I meet online is going to be him. My social life, in the absence of my dearest friends and in the nonexistence of my gay posse, has been reduced to eating alone, watching lousy TV shows and rushing to sleep.

What is it about loneliness that makes us want love so much?

Or have I merely confused love and sex again?

Today I asked a friend why he fell in love with another boy – so much so that when they broke up, due to the draconian practices that persist in on this vile isle, he nearly fell apart – and he replied that he could not remember. I could not tell if he was being disingenuous – or perhaps we do not know when that moment has overtaken us, or perhaps we cannot know what the quality of love is?

I do not know what the quality of love is.

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i am blabbering

June 22, 2005

oh god oh god!

Ok so I had this huge crush on Rob from Manhunt when it first came out in the US but missed the first broadcast in Singapore due to BMT, how lovely.

(photo from towleroad)

But god. This is the hottest guy, like, ever. And he’s gay! And very articulate, very important. Ok but not as important as the fact that he’s cute as a button. Twenty buttons, whatever. He is my one true love forever and ever!

I am like, such a bimbo.

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reactionary revolution

June 20, 2005

So that day a friend asks me, over ice-cream, how to solve a math problem which looks a bit like someone vomited an algebra textbook on bit of tissue paper (well, he did write it on a serviette). Turns out that this guy‘s sister recently attended a introductory camp/intellectual gulag with some newfangled monstrosity of an integrated programme with some newfangled monstrosity of an institution*: no, not the casino, that’s an integrated resort. The IP refers to students skipping the O-levels and going straight to some higher qualification, like the A-levels (wow, what a big change!), preferred by the school’s premier institution, the Raffles Academy (hey, I don’t come up with the names), or the International Baccalaureat (with the acccent aigu over the ‘e’), preferred by some other schools, for example, the Anglo-Chinese family (I have no idea what funky name they’ve come up with for themselves).

Which is all very fine and dandy. This will free up more time for the students to pursue their own interests, be it sports, drama, art, music, dance, etc, since now there will be less exams (I mean, the O-levels really are quite tough for 16 year old kids). Furthermore, new subjects such as philosophy, logic, art history, languages, etc are being introduced into the syllabus, to give students a broader-based education. Not only that, teaching will be reduced to a minimum, with teachers increasingly looked upon as ‘facilitators of learning’: they ‘teach less’ so students can ‘learn more’.

Well, they could have fooled me. Except that, well, like everything else in Singapore (banning gay functions, the war on AIDS, allowing casinos oh the horror), this is essentially a reactionary revolution. And sit tight to the edge of your seats because nothing is going to change. Nothing at all.

Already in my alternate career as a tuition teacher I am receiving many requests for tutoring students in subjects such as philosophy, logic, problem solving, and, most egregiously, Creative Thinking. I propernounise this term because I have no idea what their idea of ‘Creative Thinking’ is supposed to mean, and it’s sort of become a useless brandname like ‘Romancing Singapore’ or ‘Be Prepared’ or ‘The SAF Seven Core Values’. I mean, seriously. Who the hell really wants to teach something like Creative Thinking? Isn’t creativity meant to be learnt elsewhere, outside the classroom? Which school in its right mind wants to introduce something as brainless as a class for creativity? If there ever was a prize for the least creative, most thinking-within-the-box idea ever innovated, it’d be this.

And what is up with teaching philosophy, etc? Most obviously, the proper, qualified facilitators-of-learning are not the ones hired to facilitate the learning of these funky subjects. Literature teachers are summoned to design a syllabus for philosophy, which as a result seems awfully skewed to the existentialist topics of modern literature, notably French Literature. Camus and Sartre are given more importance than Descartes. Epistemology is glossed over, Kant is barely mentioned. We may see a bit of the Greeks but really not enough thought is given to their thought. As for logic, who else but math teachers? Yes, logic may have a lot to do with math, but they aren’t the same and certainly most math teachers will have no conception of formal logic (prove means prove, lah). And I can bet you that none of them have ever read the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Which brings me to my second point: why bother teaching these notoriously difficult subjects to 12 year-olds verging on 13 when these disciplines really aren’t the point. These topics are tough, and typically beyond the range of a young adolescent: at best one is able to give the students a vague impression of or an introduction to the issues involved. I am willing to wager that they are even beyond the abilities of a nonspecialised, smallminded pedagog in his/her late thirties who has received little formal training in the field. Which means that they shouldn’t really be taught as an examinable subject. Why bother to do it when no one is really going to do very well in it, and when no one can tell when anyone has done very well or not?

It’s tough to teach these exciting subjects to sundried teens for whom knowledge is a body of work waiting to be imbibed by the eyes. Few nowadays have a passion for learning, a natural curiosity when it comes to matters of the unknown. Few nowadays have the breadth of mind and of spirit to accept disagreement and controversy and be comfortable with these facets of academia. Few bother to venture beyond the artificial construct known as the Syllabus, spelt out in stark words on the first page of every textbook.

Can we blame the students? I don’t. It’s really not their fault when everything really is working against them. It’s hard to be creative when you have to be taught creativity. It’s hard to participate in genuine discussion when debate and free speech and being opinionated are seen as dangerous and decadent Western ideals that must be shunned. It’s hard to be passionate about knowledge when it remains now and forever grades at an examination. It’s hard to create a respect for truth and knowledge and learning when in the first place the economy is prized above all else. It’s hard to bother with the unquantifiable when in essence all that Singaporeans are concerned with is the quantifiable.

And that’s why ultimately any revolution ends up in reaction. When new policies like the independence given to schools emerge, teachers don’t want to know what they can teach and students don’t want to know what they can learn. Instead, teachers want to know what they must test and students want to know how they can score. And in this way continued success of bureaucracy and the system is ensured. Our children still have no childhood, and age prematurely into the exact adults who have surgically removed their childhoods.

*in no other country in the world will a a place of learning and teaching, an institute, be confused with a place where madmen are incarcerated and observed, an institution. One need only look to the name of its foremost school (and my dear alma mater, whatever), Raffles Institution, and a the name of a mental hospital, the Institute of Mental Health. I suspect that this is merely because ‘institution’ has a ‘tuition’ in it. I also suspect that this is why the leaders of this country are really insane: they have come from an institution. Just kidding don’t sue me for defamation! Love and hugs all round to this country’s wellrespected politicians.

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infidel castro

June 19, 2005

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castro, originally uploaded by quid.

Castro: I remember feeling very uncomfortable discussing the issue of decadent America and her dangerous liberal values with my hosts up at Stanford. I never really told them I was gay (okay, fine, I pretended that I wasn’t and assumed my goody-two-shoes-around-other-singaporeans persona) and so when I finally got around to SF (by myself, no less, on the Caltrain system) it was a bit of a betrayal that the first thing I did was to visit a gay bookshop in Castro.

But it felt wonderful: just to be in a place where it wasn’t wrong to be gay. It’s not like being in Happy or in Whynot or in Taboo where the homosexuals are happy having no rights (why not, when they can dance the night away and spend the next day at California Fitness, and buy more pink tees?), and in fact it is taboo to be spotted and ratted on.

Really. No point exists anymore, to Singapore, my lovely dystopic nightmare.

I wish I were anywhere but here.