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the simple life

"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sunday, October 31, 2004

I'm off

Dear Faithful Readers,

Sorry for the lack of update on Friday, since I try to write every weekday. Been a busy week.

I'm off to India. I will try to have mini-updates everyday, so stay tuned.

Have a great week ahead!

- Isaiah

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Live a little

I saw Diane Keaton naked last night.

The rest of Something's Gotta Give was equally lovely.

Diane Keaton plays Erica Barry, an uptight, divorced writer who falls in love with Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson).

In the following scene, Erica tells Harry she loves him. Harry likes her too but being a man, is afraid to commit.

HARRY: Can you cut me a little slack? My life's been turned upside down.
ERICA: Yeah. Mine too.
HARRY: Then let's each get our bearings.
ERICA: I don't want my bearings. I've had my bearings my whole fucking life.

This Sunday, I'm flying off to Mumbai for work.

My boss encouraged me to extend my stay for a few more days. Keenly aware of its Bollywood connections, he chose to describe my trip there as a "homecoming".

Curious choice of words.

The last time I was there, I had an entourage. If I extend my stay, I will be unchaperoned.

I am used to traveling alone and exploring strange, new worlds. Oddly enough, this time, I am not too sure whether I am ready for the clutter and chaos that is India.

My little excursion to the Indian embassy did nothing to subdue the niggling fear.

I took queue number 278 and waited to collect my visa. The collection counter was supposed to be in business at 4:15.

Alas, it wasn't the case yesterday and you can smell the tension in the air.

It was close to 5 when the doors opened. That brought some measure of happiness for some.

It was short-lived.

Sometime between 5:15 and 5:30, the queue counter stopped working.

And Man became animals.

The whole jungle swamped in front of the counter. The cheetahs and the hares at the forefront. The tortoises and the snails, who looked like they had too much curry, were far behind.

I was in the mediocre middle.

Someone shouted, "They are still stuck in the 40s". Another waved his ticket angrily, "I paid for express". Others suffered silently.

It was another 15 minutes before I left that piece of India.

I am thankful that I live in an orderly and efficient society. But there are many times I feel that I am missing out on some of the fun, some of the life, some of the vitality.

I think Erica Barry must have felt the same way. Enough of bearings, enough of structure, enough of order, enough of comfort, enough of the same old boring lifestyle.

I haven't made up my mind yet about staying longer in India. But I probably will.

It's time to introduce a little mess, a little chaos, a little unpredictability, a little disorder into my life.

It's time to live a little.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

John Peel

John Peel died Monday evening, aged 65.

I must confess I was a bigger fan of Dave Lee Travis than John Peel. Nevertheless, in the long lonely days of my latchkey existence, the John Peel Show was often in the background.

Robert Hanks describes perfectly what I remembered of this man:

"People who spent their adolescence tuned into Peel's Radio 1 show received an extensive education in modesty, kindness and gentle sarcasm, and learned that an appreciation of the music of rebellion and hate doesn't necessarily preclude grace of manner and tolerance: that being nice was kind of cool."

"But over at least three decades he mattered to his listeners not only because of the records he played, but because of the way he talked between the records (it is important that for Peel it always was between records: it would have struck him as a gross discourtesy, to band and listener, to talk over the music)."

John Peel was a man who loved music, stayed out of the way, and played his records. He'd rather let the music speak for itself.

In the same way, I will stop writing and let you hear him yourself.

I leave you with this:

"The Monday evening show the weekend after the Hillsborough tragedy was a piece of broadcasting I'll never forget.

He said nothing at the start of his show. He just played a record. A long slow record. It was Aretha Franklin's heart breaking gospel version of You'll Never Walk Alone.

I looked through the glass from my adjacent studio and John was just weeping. Silently. So were all of us - his listeners.

Nothing more needed to be said. "

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Satan Speaks

Satan speaks.

Not only that, he blogs too. And since he is the only one who answered my cry for topics (see comments on previous post), I will entertain this Faithless Reader.

I asked for 1 topic and in typical Singaporean fashion, he gave me 7, and asked me to choose 1. So I thought I will please this Foul Fiend and include ALL the topics in 1 fictitious blog:

1) Write a story beginning with the words, "Never would I imagine that he could say such a preposterous thing."
2) Write a story ending with the words, "The train sped away, taking my heart with it."
3) Write an entry about anything as long as it contains the sentence, "Wah, damm jia lat you know. Confirm."
4) Describe 2 or 3 strange people which you have encountered in your life.
5) If you were given one million dollars, what would you do with it?
6) Imagine that the CEO of Media Corp is your brother-in-law. He has just given you a call the other day to inform you that he is interested in starting a radical newspaper to compete with Streats and Today. He wants to hire you to pioneer this, and would pump in any amount of money you require to get this going. Describe what this paper would be like.
7) Write about the complexity of simplicity. Richard Foster wrote about this before, no kidding. Don't know how he pulled this one off.

Hee hee.How's that sir? Hee :) Mr S Tan


Never would I imagine that he could say such a preposterous thing.

Ni hao (literally "You're good!").

The Chinese tourist said it with such gusto that I'll make sure he'll burn in hell when he gets there.

How dare you greet me with goodness? I am Satan. Tremble and Fear, from Toa Payoh to Tanah Merah. I am the absence of goodness, the abundance of badness. I am...

Comrade, where is St. Andrew's Cathedral?

Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?

I regained my composure in time to point this Confused Chinese Communist Psycho (CCCP) to Chijmes instead, charming him with tales of sweet convent girls and religious devotion. Formerly a religious institution, this is the place where people go to get high, get laid and get broke.

My kind of place.

I rarely leave Hell but once in a while, I'll have a break and I'll make it a point to come to this country to visit the Old Man.

Even I need a mentor.

So here I was, at City Hall MRT, waiting for the train. And the train was late.

Now apparently, the MRT has been the fashionable way for many Singaporeans to jump queue (a revered local custom, I was told) to see me. True enough, I overheard a MRT staff mumbling into his walkie, "Confirm train delay is it? Another jumper at Bishan. Confirm dead already is it? Wah, damm jia lat (terrible) you know. Confirm."

I used to celebrate wildly when things like that happen. Now, it takes the special and strange people for me to sit up and notice.

When Billy Ray first came to Hell, he was very upset. He kept saying, "I've been a good man all my life. I went to church every Sunday. I was a perfect gentlemen. I raised my kids well. I took good care of my horses. Why is this happening to me?"

And I kept telling him the same thing.

"You invented line-dancing".

Billy Ray's settled in now and leads the monthly mass dancing, just to take the edge off.

I made sure I was around when Woody Porty first arrived.

"Thanks for creating Teletubbies. I am a big fan."

To this day, she stills mutters "Damm" four times in a row.

Time flies when you're having fun. Before I knew it, I was at the Old Man's place.

He welcomed me with a cheque for one million dollars.

"Take it. Thanks for helping me with the successful handover."

I told him to take half and dedicate it to Feminist Research. The other half should go to the Republican party.

We talked about old times. He wanted advice from me and that took me by surprise.

Maybe he's getting senile.

He asked:

Imagine that the CEO of Media Corp is your brother-in-law. He has just given you a call the other day to inform you that he is interested in starting a radical newspaper to compete with Streats and Today. He wants to hire you to pioneer this, and would pump in any amount of money you require to get this going. Describe what this paper would be like.

I told him:

"Let's have an award-winning newspaper that should only win the sexy awards like design and graphics. Let's have a newspaper that meddles in the affairs of our neighbors but not meddle in our own affairs. Then, give control of the newspaper over to yes-men and security folks."

Apparently, I was told, such a newspaper already exists.

I told him I would look into it.

"What's the matter? You losing your touch?"

"Just a bit tired. It's not easy running Hell."

"Yes and no. The simple part is the fear. Manage the fear and all will be well. How to get the fear going is the complex part. For me, I have my yes-men, my woody-men, my security folks and my large extended family to thank."

He paused and smiled. I knew what was going on.

He was about to make a deal with the Devil.

"Why don't we switch places, for a while, who knows, it might do you some good?"


From the nether world to the first world. The procedure took less than a minute; a simple spell to switch our hearts.

I did not feel any different. It was almost like my old heart.

The absence of goodness. The abundance of badness. The...

"See you in 2 months."

He wished me luck and bade me goodbye.

I stood at the Platform of Purgatory and waved hesitantly.

The train sped away, taking my heart with it.

Monday, October 25, 2004

How are you?

I hate tough questions.

Like the other day, someone asked me:

How are you?

How do you answer a question like that?

In the past, I have reduced the state of my being to "Fine", Busy", "Ok" and definitely too many "Not so good".

But I am not going to lie anymore.

How can I reduce the complexities, richness and the wonderful chaos of my so-called life to a few words?

Like right now, I am feeling disappointed, angry, grateful, tired, alive. At the same time. Plus, a couple of emotions I can't put my finger to.

Ok, maybe I'm screwed up.

I especially hate this question when people ask in their "auto-roaming" mode. Like you know, when you walking about in the office, and you see a familiar face, and automatically, those 3 detestable words come out.

Many people don't even stop when they ask this. Some might slow down but they don't give you enough time to process that question and say " I'm disappointed, angry, grateful, tired, feel alive and I feel a whole lot of emotions I don't even know myself".

I have a feeling many people who ask this question aren't really interested in the answers. And those who give simple answers aren't really listening to the question.

How are you is a question that has lost its meaning. It is a question that demands brevity, not truth. It is a question of custom, not concern. It is a question that asks too much and gives too little.

But there is hope.

My Mahjong Maniac Mother called me on Saturday and the first thing she asked me was:

Have you eaten?

It is an ancient Chinese question that has stood the test of time.

(Before another faithful reader accused me of bigotry, I must say that in exalting my own culture, I have not done this at others' expense. I am really proud of my heritage except those dark, unfashionable days of the Chinese pigtail)

Have you eaten is a superior alternative to How are you. It is a question that goes straight to the engine of human life - the stomach. Yet, it is non-invasive, unlike the other question, which on a bad day, can reduce one to tears. It is a question suited to rapid movement since the answers are always short. It is a question that is almost, in every instance, followed by a truthful answer.

Let's banish How are you to the higher realms of intellectual discourse. Let it be uttered over lingering sips of ulong tea, over long dinners in the presence of wine and butlers, in private libraries and even in the sanctuary of the bedroom.

But only after and never before fornication.

Have no doubts. How are you is a intimate and intense question. Give it respect, give it time and give it intellectual and spiritual commitment.

If you happen to fall short, there's always Have you eaten?

I hope this finds you well-fed and satisfied.

Friday, October 22, 2004

An Invitation

Nothing today...

But a simple invitation for you to tell me what you want me to write.

Things that you care about.

Things that keep you awake at night.


I don't have answers. Instead I offer you time, empathy and friendship.

Let's start with your words on the comments page.

Let's end with hope on every page.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

4 Draycott Park

Once upon a time, Tuesdays were perfect.

But not before enduring a nauseating cocktail of Keynesian economics, tortuous trigonometry and the amorous leanings of the wif of bath.

A Levels was hell.

And if you don't believe in Hell, you haven't met Anal Agnes, who spoke Chaucer and broke spirits.

Tough. Uncompromising. Unyielding.

And we're only talking about her substantial posterior.

But come face to face with the Breaker of Balls, the Harbinger of Horror and the Tyrant of Terror, let's just say...

It's not a pretty sight.

But not even this Beast of Boredom, this Leecher of Life can stop Tuesdays from being perfect.

(My body may be hers, but never my Spirit)

No matter how bad the day was, a most enchanting evening would begin at 7pm.

I would make my way to 4 Draycott Park, usually with classmate Curator Cheong, who like me, scorned academia but loved cinema.

Those were times unlike today. No Internet, no DVDs, no glut of film festivals and almost no foreign films from Cathay or Shaw.

(For some reason, I have never considered Hong Kong films foreign)

And we were 2 teenage cineasts, with little money to spare.

Ok, maybe things haven't changed that much.

The French were kind enough to offer us a little projection room for 2 hours of pure cinematic magic.

It didn't matter that the room was a little dingy. Or if you were late, you would be seated at the back and missing the subtitles. Or if the print was old and dirty.

Or the motley crew of oddballs that graced the screenings.

What mattered was on the screen.

Over the course of 2 years, I was mesmerized by tales of sordid affairs, crimes of passion, duels and fights, criminals on the run and detectives on a trail.

In these foreign lands, peopled by strange tongues, it was ok to be different, ok to be flawed, ok to be estranged.

Redemption was always within reach, provided you were willing to pay the price.

These were films, unlike any I have ever seen. The cinema was ambiguous, subtle and sublime.

And it helped me make sense of a world of Anal Agnes, stuffy peers and a punishing environment.

When the going got tough, there was always Tuesdays.


Once upon a time, Tuesdays were perfect.

In the morning, I read Economics, Math and Literature.

In the evenings, I had an education.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


My friends are crazy.

This Sunday, Ravishing Rox is gearing herself to run a half-marathon for women in San Francisco.

Last month, Athletic Al tried persuading me to participate in the Sheares Bridge Run & Army Half Marathon.

They are all nuts.

Do you know the origin of the marathon?

"The name "marathon" comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek soldier who, according to legend, ran from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon."

And do you know what happened to this Mr P. Dippy - Mr. Just-Do-It-and-No-Horsing-Around Greek Hero?

He ran the 26 miles, "announced the Greek victory with the words 'Nike' , or 'Victory' and died on the spot."

Now you understand why I am not dying to run.

Yesterday, Tantalizing Tams sent me a link to the upcoming French Film Festival Movie Marathon.

Has the whole world gone mad?

Why would anyone subject themselves to the torture of watching a series of disparate films in one sitting?

For a good deal? For the novelty? For bragging rights? (I survived Wicker Park and Mona Lisa Smile in 1 night)

I never had a problem with the film franchise marathons (Spiderman, X-Men, Lord of the Rings). Let's face it: You don't need that much intellectual commitment to get by those films.

But when an institution that promotes language, culture and the arts starts to pander to the kinky tastes of a whimsical audience, I think there's something really wrong.

I see French films the way I see French cuisine. It has to be studied, critiqued and consumed slowly.

"The French... have surrounded food with so much commentary, learning and connoisseurship as to clothe it in the vestments of civilization itself... Cooking is viewed as a major art form: innovations are celebrated and talked about as though they were phrases in the development of a style of painting or poetry... A meal at a truly great restaurant is a sort of theatre you can eat." Richard Bernstein

I would never imagine going to a French buffet. In the same way, the idea of a French Film Marathon revolts me.

Are we going to be helpless corroborators as this Monster of a Marathon disparages the French Film?


Boycott the Film Marathon!

Boycott the Cultural Assassins!

For Renoir! For Truffaut! For Goddard!




Tuesday, October 19, 2004

A nation of cheats

3 checks in 2 days. Twice on the same bus. Bus inspectors are sure getting busy, making sure commuters everywhere pay their dues.

I am actually quite surprised. With an overwhelming majority of passengers using the ezLink card, I would think it’s impossible to cheat the bus companies. Unless someone walk past the scanners without flashing or tap the scanner before their actual stop. This won’t be easy unless people are prepared to lose face.

(For my international readers, lose face does not refer to a debilitating form of facial wastage but rather a soul-wrenching social malaise since the very first Chinese first stepped on this yellow earth. For the average Westerner, you will not be able to adequately understand this concept unless you’re still fighting duels and defending the honor of fair maidens.)

Yet, the bus companies are making frequent checks.

Are we becoming a nation of cheats?

Last year, Flyingchair.net hosted the AsiaBlog Awards. The public was invited to submit their favorite blog. There was a “prolific” amount of cheating. A Singaporean site, Imprezzions, had 6 votes from the same IP address. 3 of these votes feature email addresses that used a variation of the name ‘Phua Hui Ting’.

They must have quite a big family over at .

And not-so-creative parents when it comes to names.

Flyingchair.net found that the majority of cheating came from Singapore and Malaysia.

Elsewhere on the Net, I found 158 students from 28 schools caught cheating in a national office administration exam using software programs.

And thanks to technology, unfaithful Singapore spouses are now more easily exposed. Apparently, 9 out of 10 cases of extra-martial behavior are discovered through “cellular telephone habits”.

Are we cheating more because of technology or has technology made it easier to discover cheating?

Even if we have become a nation of cheats, there is no need to worry. A casual check on the web found a list of nations mentioned in the same breath as “a nation of cheats”.

USA, Great Britain, Zimbabwe, Malaysia, Sweden, India.

We are in good company.

(Note: After I posted this, there was another check on the bus on my way back. Next time, I'll write about winning lotteries and women falling from the sky)

Monday, October 18, 2004

I cheated!

I cheated an old lady yesterday.

Dinner at Jackson Kopitiam was a galore of chili, crab and carbohydrates. By the time I was done, I was desperate to wash my hands. But it was going to be tricky.

The clever people at this coffeeshop has the place set up so that you need to pay 10 cents to use the washing facilities. I know it isn't much but how do you get to money when both your hands are dirty? I mean the whole point of getting that delicious chili off your hands is to get to the money. The money will get you more chili, some tasty beverage to wash down all that chili, some quality companionship to share the chili with and get rid of all kinds of messy chili in your life.

But how do you get rid of the chili when you can't get to the money to get rid of the chili?

Believe me, if Alanis had to go through this shit, you would hear about it in Ironic.

But she's a bloody vegetarian.

Back to my hands.

The toilet was well guarded. But the old lady had to leave her seat to get to something. I had to be fast. I had to be quiet. But I was ready. 2 and a half years in the Armed Forces had trained me well in the Pre-Emptive Strike.

Swift and Deadly.

I got in safe. Washed my hands quickly. Now, I wanted to give 10 cents to the old lady. And to my horror, I realized I had no change and only a $50 note in my pocket.

So I sneaked out - without paying.

That was yesterday.

Today, I feel guilty as hell.

And that was before church.

I cheated an old lady making a simple and decent living.

The next time you go to Jackson Kopitiam, would you be kind enough to drop an extra 10 cents when you use the toilet?

That is if you trust a shameless deceiver of old ladies to pay you back.

Friday, October 15, 2004


"His language is song, his work is play"
- On Orpheus

Someone told me this morning there's life outside this blog.

I wish she have told me earlier.

Someone NICE left me a comment and asked me whether I consider work a play or play a work.

By the way, in a perfect world, NICE people read my blog and leave comments. NICE people tell you what they think: 'Hey, that sucks' , 'I don't agree with you' or 'Great job'. NICE people tell other NICE people about this blog. At least 10 others. NICE people visit your blog everyday. Twice.

But we're talking about a perfect world.

Reality bites.

So, let's get back to the question.

Ideally, work=play and play=work. It's neat concept. After all, there are overlapping areas and we shouldn't have to artificially separate work and play. For example, a rock star on tour who really enjoy music and groupies will have problems with that.

That and STDs.

Practically, I think it works better if we separate them. First of all, it means our bosses can't abuse this: "Why don't you work longer since you're having so much fun?"

Yeah, right.

We like to think we are sophisticated creatures and can handle it all. Our brains are indeed powerful. It's just that much of that works in our subconscious. Our conscious minds are more limited and need clear signals. For example, for people having problems sleeping, it is encouraged that they reserve the bed for sleeping and not work, reading and television.

(Sex is allowed, of course, and encouraged.)

This is useful because the brain will associate the bed with rest and peace, instead of the mixed signals that it had before.

Clear distinctions work.

While it is important to have distinctions in thinking conceptually about work and play, it's not necessary when it comes to ATTITUDE.

In other words, we should be playful when it comes to work and work hard when it comes to play.

I always like actors who play around. No, not with the help. But with the script, with directions, with meanings, with ideas. A script can be perfect and the direction impeccable, but as Al Pacino suggests, sometimes spontaneity is more important. And that comes with hard work and a playful attitude.

The business and engineering world are also working hard at playing.

As much as I want to elaborate, I'm taking my play time seriously and if you like, I will share more next time. For now, it's time to play.

Blogging is hard work.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Born to play

"Parker: Troy! Mac Parker. Ever hear of Planet of the Apes?
Troy McClure: Uh ... the movie or the planet?
Parker: The brand-new multimillion dollar musical. And you are starring ... as the human.
Troy McClure: It's the part I was born to play, baby!"
- The Simpsons

I'm keeping this short so that I can devote myself to some serious PLAY.

Today, I am home alone. No, my mother didn't run away. She took a coach to Kapital KL to spend some quality time with relatives.

Playing mahjong.

Even my mother has a life.

We were born to play. Hence, the name 'Born Loser' for some of us.

I am looking for a playground for adults.

Is there such a thing?

Some have suggested clubs and nightspots. Well apart from the problems of excruciating smoke, bad actors and eternal damnation, I have a strange visual ailment that renders everyone much more attractive than they actually look. Also, as a rule of thumb, I generally avoid activities that involve bodily fluids.

I sweat like a pig.

I cannot remember the last time where I really played hard and enjoyed myself. It's time that I dedicate myself wholly to this issue of PLAY and get my priorities right. It will be great to observe kids and I am sure I have a lot to learn from them.

Well, I wish you sweet pranks, foolish senses, continual pretty madness and great great fun.

On my command, unleash Hell.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Everybody hurts

“9 strangers met.
On the net.
killed themselves.
Boy, that was sad.”

I am not about to talk about suicide. The hows, the whats or the whys. I feel utterly disqualified, having no authentic experience, having no longing for eternal separation.

Killing yourself requires a measure of courage, of which I have none.

The bravest thing I’ve done was to threaten to run away from home, but not before I asked my fuming mother for a tumbler of water. At the age of seven, I have already mastered the basic tenet of extreme survival and realized the overwhelming superiority of water over food.

I think it must be this fluid request that got the winds of diplomacy blowing.

Basically, it saved my ass.

Boy, how the tables have turned.

My mother is a guest in my home.

Ok, let’s talk about REM’s Everybody Hurts.

When I first heard it, I thought it was an angry song for moaners and losers.

And I was Loser Numero Uno.

Now that I am no longer on Top of the Dorks, this song still has a special place in my heart. Let’s face it.

Everybody hurts.

Michael Stipe once commented the song no longer belonged to REM but to the world at large.

I wonder if the song turned out to be a total dud, would he have said the same? Would he have so openly shared his trash, his junk, his shit and dedicate these to the world?

I think about the 9 young people who killed themselves. Maybe they found the world a little impatient with their weakness, a little intolerant of their imperfection. Maybe they were willing to share their trash, their junk, their shit but the world wasn’t ready for them.

I think about the moments before they actually logged off from life, whether they had moments of hesitation. I think about the last thing they see in their mind before they end it. An object? An incident? A person? Would I have died for an object? Would I have died over an incident?

I wonder if I would have shown them a smile, a gesture, an act of kindness, whether it would make a difference.

Maybe I was a little impatient with their weakness, a little intolerant of their imperfection. Maybe I wasn’t ready for their trash, their junk and their shit.

Forgive me.

I will do better.

Just hold on.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Glory days

"And leaves you with nothing mister but
Boring stories of glory days"

-Bruce Springsteen

I was about to begin a series of posts on the most beautiful songs in my world when Richard the Lionheart enquired:

"Ask yourself whether you 'write for a living' or you 'live to write'".

Much as I like good old rock and roll, I wasn't about to deny Richard.

Blame it on my post-colonial mentality, if you like.

God save the King.

I wish I can tell you I live to write.

I wish I can tell you I write for myself. That I write because I have something to say. That I write in search of self-discovery and amazing adventures. I wish I can tell you that I worship words, wisdom and wit. I wish I can say "I write, therefore I am".

But I can't.

And I certainly don't write for a living.

So why do I write?

In the place of a real answer, I offer you a story.

When I was 9, I took part in a story-telling competition in school. My first time telling a story. My first time in front of a big crowd. On that fateful day, I launched into the story and halfway through, to my horror, I realized that I did not introduce myself. So, I stopped.

And introduced myself.

In the middle of the story.

My friends told me I came in last.

No kidding.

(If only the judges had seen Annie Hall, they would have recognized my genius.)

3 years later. Another story-telling competition. I was nominated again to take part. Apparently, everybody forgot my humiliation.

But I didn't.

So I worked hard. Tape recorders, mirrors and mother. My weapons in this war against the tyranny of shame.

The day came. I introduced myself. And I told a beloved Chinese story involving a dying old man, his quarrelsome sons and a bunch of chopsticks.

I whispered, I raised my voice, I changed my pitch for each character. I executed every word as I have done in my rehearsals. I was consumed, with belief and with passion.

Until that day, I never knew how the time between "Thank you" and hearing the applause could be so long and yet so rewarding. I never knew how it was like for strange people to come to you and pat you on the back, one after another. I never knew how it was like for the Tiger Woods of storytelling, the champion of champions, to come and humbly lay his crown before you.

And I never knew how deafening and rewarding applause can be. Or how by some strange form of magic, the applause and the heart beat as one.

I gave my all in that competition. And I received so much more.

I miss the passion. I miss the adoration. I miss the glory days.

Perhaps, that is why I write.

Monday, October 11, 2004

A museum of the dead

"We unearthed the Earth and found a dead museum..."
- Judith Huang's The Apocalypse Museum

Hail, young Singaporean poets.

But first, let us talk about death, this Morbid Monday.

Did you know that where C K Tang and Ngee Ann City stands, there used to be burial grounds?

A twist to the shop-till-you-drop idea.

Just imagine, if we were to have a cemetery, a museum of the dead, if you like, in the heart of the city, what would that be like?

I, for one, think it's great.

A museum to commemorate our dead. Our heroes, our fallen comrades. I don't mean a structure like the Civilian War Memorial but a proper resting place with tombstones, exhibits, gift shops.

Ok , maybe not the gift shops.

America has Arlington. Britain has Westminster Abbey. We only have Chua Chu Kang, which now sounds slightly ludicrous, thanks to a contractor in yellow boots.

Think about the day when the great Patriarch of this country makes a graceful exit from the First World to the Next World. Where is he going to go? What are the arrangements going to be like? Will a grateful nation be able to give a proper farewell? Will his resting place accommodate the thousands of grieving schoolchildren paying their annual tributes?

I am sure many will call for His Body to be preserved in state.

Like Lenin and another Great Leader, Kim Il Sung.

We can do with 2 less shopping centers. But we cannot afford to have anything less than a grand institution for the resting place of our Beloved Father.

In the heart of the city, it must lie.

Something to think about. But for now, may that day be far away. I wish our Great Leader and all my readers good health.

And peace.

Again, congratulations, Dawn and Judith.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Singapore Idol?

Did you see the Singapore Idols’ American Pie music video?

What a nice job.

For a song with such pensive lyrics, I thought the Idols did rather well. Lots of energy and smiles all round. So much optimism in our young generation!

I wish there was a shot of the Stars and Stripes though. That would have made it perfect.

Some able-bodied seaman on shore leave would have provided the much-needed eye candy.

Still, it’s a great start and I’m looking forward to more music videos. Here’s a list of songs that would probably feature:

1) God Bless America
2) New York, New York (Frank Sinatra)
3) I Left My Heart in San Francisco (Tony Bennett)
4) I Love L.A. (Randy Newman)
5) Do You Know The Way to San Jose? (Dionne Warwick)
6) Kansas City (James Brown)
7) Georgia on My Mind (Ray Charles)

I can hardly wait to stand beside thousands of Singaporeans at the Singapore Idol finals for a heartful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

It is a Uniquely Singapore trait in celebrating another's culture so so passionately.

My home sweet home.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Why is a funny question

Why is a funny question.

I look at myself in the mirror and ask why am I so fat.

I am fat because I eat a lot.
Why do you eat so much then?
Maybe because my mom likes to stuff my plate.
In her childhood, she didn’t have much to eat and so she wants the best for me.
Making you fat is the best she can do?
No. She could have cuddled me more when I was a baby. But then, I was a Beefy Baby.
So it’s your genes huh?
Yeah, or maybe it was too much breast milk.
Ahhh, so you were a mean sucker then?
How would I know? I was a cherub.
Blame God then.
Yeah. He probably saw my Fat Inner Child.

Ever had children ask you why questions endlessly? (Or adult friends, like Juvenile Jo (Malacca), who habitually whines, “But why?”)

Girl, you must eat your carrots.
It will make you healthy.
Why must I be healthy?
Then you will be as fit and pretty like your mother.
Why can’t I be like you, my fat father?

I propose we ban the teaching of the word “Why” to children below the age of 10. Maybe even 14. It will instantly elevate the quality of life for parents everywhere. But kids being kids will still find ways to get away with it. But I promise you this – No Whys saves Lives.

Witness the following scenario:

Daddy, can you buy this toy for me?
No way.
(Pause, since he can’t ask why) So how am I able to get you to buy this toy for me?
You have to make sure you get to college and not get fired on The Apprentice Season 22!
Father, I promise you I will work hard to deserve this toy and earn your love and affection. I love you dad.

I rest my case.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Culture of fear

This is a presentation I did last year:

Hail to the Thief” is the name of Radiohead’s latest album. It is not a perfect pop record. It is not something you play at most parties. But it is a record that perfectly reflects the state of the world as it is today.

Songwriter Thom Yorke, says the thief in the name refers to:

“forces that aren't necessarily human, forces that are creating this climate of fear. … certain people are able to inflict incredible pain on others… They're taking people's souls from them before they're even dead. I was just overcome with all this fear and darkness. And that fear is the 'thief.’"

Fear is the new F word of our generation. Fuck is no longer cool. Fear, however, is a present phenomenon. Through the media, the culture of fear has become a predominant framework in which we look at issues today. This fear machine tells us that all is not well. Danger is everywhere and that visible and invisible forces are ever waiting, to devour and to destroy. The culture of fear tells us to trust and empower our Government fully if we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The culture of fear tells us to open our wallets to the fear merchants of Corporations or life will be miserable. The culture of fear demands that we use the mass media solely to navigate a world that is increasingly dangerous and out of control.

It’s true that after September 11, the world does look a lot bleaker and grimmer. Turn on the news and you have enough fears to last a lifetime. Wars. Terrorism. Unemployment. Wage cuts. Epidemics. Cancer. Senseless crimes. These are serious concerns. The question we need to ask is that: has the news media been reporting the news fairly, completely and without bias? We believe that a culture of fear exists in the media. We believe that the news media uses sensationalism, selective reporting, omission of facts, disproportionate coverage, media silence to generate problems and make things look worse than they seem. The public, in fear and trembling, will then turn to the governments, the corporations, and the media themselves for solutions. But salvation comes at a price. It will cost you your freedom, your integrity and the ability to do the right thing.

I first came across the culture of fear in a documentary called “Bowling for Columbine”.

Bowling for Columbine looks at gun violence in the United States. Here are some figures for comparison.

(Refer to PowerPoint)

Michael Moore, the director, blames the U.S media for propagating a culture of fear. Although violent crime has gone down 20%, news coverage of those crimes have gone up 600%. The media distorts the facts and sensationalize the news. Indeed, good news is just plain uninteresting. Instead of reporting just the facts, the news media is geared towards entertainment, voyeurism, and oversimplified solutions. It’s sexy to report about the black man who robs, rapes, loots and pillage the white woman and her child. It’s sexy to report about 2 teenagers who listens to Marilyn Manson and therefore guns down their schoolmates. But it’s not sexy for the media to report that black people are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. It’s not sexy for them to report that the majority of the young who listen to loud, angry music get on by with very normal lives. It’s sexy to report what is simple, dogmatic and absolute. It’s not sexy to report what is complex, hypothetical and relative.

With horrifying and sensational headlines, people are terrified. Divorced from the actual reality, they perceived danger to be everywhere.

(play Manson video)

"You're watching the news. You're being pumped full of fear. There are floods, there's AIDS, there's murder. Cut to commercial. Buy the Acura, buy the Colgate. If you have bad breath, they're not going to talk to you. If you have pimples, the girl's not going to [Audio Deleted] you.

And it's just this -- it's a campaign of fear and consumption. And that's what I think it's all based on, is the whole idea that, keep everyone afraid and they'll consume."

Therefore, frightened people buy guns. And guns often fall in the wrong hands. Just like the fateful day at the Columbine High School.

The culture of fear allows powerful corporations and governments to set agendas through the media. High awareness of crime benefits the very powerful gun industry and the prison-industrial complex. Health crisis benefits the powerful pharmaceutical and medical research companies.

Fear of terrorism has resurrected the arms industry. Fear of terrorism has allowed governments to enact powerful, draconian laws that threaten our civil liberties.

Hence, corporations and governments often exaggerate “crisis” or invent them, ultimately benefiting themselves. More often than not, the media cooperates since crisis always leads to higher viewership and readership. Thus, the false prophets of media, corporations and governments work through the culture of fear to sell papers, products and policies – and it does so very well.

The culture of fear works because fear is such a powerful emotion. It can cloud our judgment and make us irrational. Like Metallica says, “it’s hard to see clear, is it me, is it fear?” Fear can become so dominant that other perspectives lose out. Fear of crime makes a frightened public cry out for more protection and more justice. But experts will tell you the most effective way to combat crime is to reduce poverty and improve education. But Americans spent billions of dollars on guns and prisons when they should be spending on housing and schools.

The culture of fear is not just an American phenomenon. My esteemed teammates will share you with their greatest fears in this trying time. Indeed, today, we face great challenges as a nation. Let us be seriously concerned with these issues. Let us look at these issues in the eye and deal with them. Let us not be overcome with anxiety and let us not be paralyzed by fear.

Above all, let us, with an informed mind and self-belief, do the right thing.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

A few reasonable words

Is it possible to “speak a few reasonable words” everyday as Goethe exhorts us?

What is reasonable to me may not be reasonable to you.

At 7.43 every weekday morning, I join the queue for bus 111. The bus interchange, where I am, is small and has 3 services. Basically, it is a glorified bus stop with buses parked in front. There’s an electronic signboard that announces the plate number of the next bus in service. Unofficial but orderly queues will form. Others prefer to sit or hover around the bus entrances.

When the time comes to board, many of those who sit or hover around do not seem to see the queue. They wait for no one and climb onboard as soon as they can.

I can’t understand this.

What do you say to these people?

“Madam, let me reason with you. You were sitting down for the last 5 minutes while others made the effort to queue. The bus has never been full and there are seats for everyone. Surely it is not too much for you to wait a little while for them to board? How will you feel if you’re in the queue and a whole bunch of people come barging in and behaving like you’re not there?”

Is this a reasonable thing to say?

I would think yes.

Another reasonable conversation I would like to have with some of my traveling companions goes something like this:

“Sir, I do understand that you may have been blessed with an extraordinarily big package and it looks like you’ve been having too many carbohydrates. But is it reasonable if I ask you not to put your knees on the back of my seat? The seats are pretty thin and every time you shift and move, I get knocked about. How would you feel if I’m sitting behind you and I keep pounding your back?”

That is another conversation I am not going to have.

I used to direct actors. Being influenced by Judith Weston, I work with actors on actions and objectives, and avoid explicit directions. In the end, I found out that it’s great working this way but it’s not for everybody.

Some animals are more equal than others.

This is not to say that actors are animals, of course.

Gothe gives great advice. It is good to speak a few reasonable words every day. But choose your audience. I can’t choose my fellow wayfarers on 111 but I can choose to be quiet.

And smile.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Choosing a name is too hard

Choosing a name is too hard.

For now, I have decided to name this blog "the simple life" because life is pretty simple.

For now.

But is it always?

Fortunately, we can rename this blog. Today, it is the simple life. Tomorrow, life could be enigmatic. Tune in next week and you will find life to be simply unfathomable.

Or unfathomably simple.

It's nice to know I can have a blog name that reflects my attitude to life.

I predict, in the very near future, people will be able to change their names as often as they like. Today, I can be Tom. Tomorrow morning - Dick. In the evening, call me Harriet.

Names will not matter because the system will see us as a series of numbers that reflects our country of origin, race, genetic makeup, etc (Much like Jaguar cars)

Names as they are in their present form do tell you something about their owners. Of course, some names reveal a lot more about their parents. Names in this form have its limitations. Parents do not have hindsight when they name their baby Grace, who can turn out to be a real bitch. And John Kennedy can be a real failure with the ladies.

I think we can learn a thing or two about names from hip hop culture. First of all, rappers' names are brilliant and they tell you a lot about them. Also, names such as J Lo and P Daddy evolve with the personalities and alter egos behind them.

Technology has altered how we see ourselves and the things around us. Our sense of identity and self are constantly fluid, changing and even multiplied. It will just be a matter of time where our names are allowed to be interchangeable.

For now, let it be known that you're reading "the simple life".

Tomorrow though, will be a different story.