Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Best of..." poll sneak peek

My number 1 film of 2006

For some years now, it's been a tradition of sorts for me to take part in the Top 10 Theatrical Films portion of the Best of... poll over at the Mobius Home Video Forum. (Unfortunately, the ballots and results from some of the earlier years have been lost but interested parties can check out my -- and many other Mobians' -- 2005 votes over here while those for the years 1999 to 2001 can be accessed via this page.)

The deadline for submitting this year's ballots is midnight today, 31st January (though, because of the time difference, I actually have fourteen more hours to do this than those who reside in the U.S.A.'s Central time zone... ;b). Consequently, the past few hours have seen me putting the finishing touches to my poll submission and then sending it off to be recorded and tabulated.

If all goes as planned, sometime next week, the results of this year's votes will be announced and displayed on Mobius' Arthouse, World & Hollywood Cinema discussion board. (More than by the way, I do hope that I won't be the only the only Asian Cinema discussion board regular who will take part in this poll -- or the sole female, as turned out to be the case one year... ;S)

However, especially for those of this blog's readers who don't actually frequent the Mobius Home Video Forum, I'm going to go ahead and provide a sneak peek here of my personal picks -- and accompanying write-ups -- for the 10 best theatrical films of 2006 (i.e., those cinematic offerings which I viewed in theatres (including the non-retrospective sections of film festivals) and/or had a theatrical release in their home territory in 2006):-

1) Exiled (Hong Kong, 2006)
Director Johnnie To’s stylish quasi-sequel to his artful The Mission (Hong Kong, 1999) is a filmic masterpiece which is laden with virtuosic set-pieces and rich references to Milkyway Image movies past that’s guaranteed to awe, please and even exhilarate those of us who are already his fans (even while being unapologetically obtuse for those folks who still are not).

2) Still Life (Mainland China, 2006)
The deserved winner of the Golden Lion at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, this bravura Jia Zhangke offering’s strengths lie in its: willingness to show more than tell; and ability to pretty much seamlessly incorporate fanciful visuals – like a UFO and flying building! – into what generally feels like a revealing along with contemplative documentary-style look at a rapidly changing China.

3) My Name is Fame (Hong Kong, 2006)
In a perfect world, this compelling portrait of the down-but-still- alive-and-kicking Hong Kong film industry would be director Lawrence Lau (AKA Lawrence Ah Mon), actor Lau Ching Wan and the local film industry’s “come-back” movie. Since it’s far from being that, I’ll settle for this earnest offering being recognized as one of 2006’s better along with more admirable and well-meaning cinematic efforts.

4) V for Vendetta (U.S.A.-U.K., 2005)
Viva V! A major English-language blockbuster with a dramatic plus subversive political message, this big budget offering comes across as a courageously combustible as well as seriously resonant work in more ways than one. All in all (and I trust that Hong Kong film fans will appreciate this piece of high praise), this James McTeigue-helmed work both reminds me, and rivals that, of those from Tsui Hark at his very best.

5) Princess Raccoon (Japan, 2005)
If you thought that Seijun Suzuki’s Pistol Opera (Japan, 2001) was already amply weird and wonderful…here comes one more highly entertaining, wildly fantastical and gorgeously surrealistic “performance art” piece from surely the most imaginative – and amusingly mischievous? – octogenarian auteur on the planet! :b

6) Joyeux Noel (France-Germany-U.K.-Romania, 2005)
This tri-lingual World War I drama from director cum scriptwriter Christian Carion which re-creates a seemingly improbable real-life event provides a timely and lump-in-the-throat reminder of what people who are on opposing sides at particular moments in time – but at peace at others – can have in common, for good as well as bad.

7) Fearless (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2006)
Serious in tone, instructive in intention and uplifting in spirit, this historical bio-pic from director Ronnie Yu also happens to be a hard-kicking martial arts extravaganza that’s a superb showcase for the action talents of Jet Li, the wushu master who, for all of his attempts to become a Hollywood star, is so much better utilized and more charismatic in Chinese language works.

8) Election 2 (Hong Kong, 2006)
A thought-provoking sequel that not only makes sense but also actually trump s the first Election (Hong Kong, 2005), this forceful political offering with triad drama trappings from director Johnnie To, an auteur who currently is at his absolute peak, is a brave and substantive work which successfully chills and horrifies on more than one level.

9) Forgiveness (South Africa, 2004)
The winner of the Human Rights and Youth Jury prizes at the 2004 Locarno International Film Festival (as well as a nominee for the Golden Leopard award), this understated movie with the intensely powerful story about truth, reconciliation and forgiveness is all the more effective because it smacks of absolute reality.

10) The Host (South Korea, 2006)
Who would have thought it (possible)? Here’s a monster movie from director Bong Joon-Ho that, unexpectedly and much to its credit, possesses gobs of humor and some spot-on sarcastic political criticism along with proficient acting from the leads (and some of the support players), great swathes of pathos, thrills and spills, an environmentalist message, plenty of action and wicked special effects. Oh, and a rather interesting acting plus looking monster too! :D

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Favorite female authors

Enid Blyton is the author of some 800 books
(including the Famous Five and Malory Towers series)

First, an update on my acupuncture treatment and its surprising side-effects: At the beginning of this new week, I decided to continue for at least a few more days with the acupuncture. So yesterday, I had more pins stuck into me. Four to be exact.

This time around, I didn't experience any ear ache or numbness in the jaw or neck. Instead, as my physiotherapist cum acupuncturist gave me advance warning might happen, I've felt uncommonly drowsy -- almost, as if I had been drugged even! -- and fatigued in the hours since receiving this latest bout of treatment.

At times like these, for all of my being a film fan that some might describe as of the somewhat rabid variety, it's books -- not movies -- that I turn to for entertainment and comfort; and books which I've read before at that. Right now, my concentration's not too bad -- just my energy level -- so I've been re-visiting one of my favorite crime novelists. (Linda Fairstein, for those who would like to know.) However, if things were really bad, I'd turn to favorite books from my childhood.

In any event, I got to realizing that the tomes from these two favored genres that I'd turn to in my hours of need all happen to be by women writers! And since some, even if not all, of them may not be familiar to many of this blog's readers, I figure that I might as well devote a couple of entries to introducing and discussing a few of them to you good folks.

For today, I'll focus on my three favorite children's book authors. So here they are (in order of my own introduction to their works):-

1) Enid Blyton (1897-1968): This amazingly prolific writer is, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s Index Translationum, the fifth most translated author in the world (less so than such as Agatha Christie and Vladimir Lenin but more so than -- to name a few individuals -- William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Stephen King and Pope John Paul II).

Although she also did such as contribute entries to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, this English writer was best known -- all over the British Commonwealth (but, I was surprised to find, not the U.S.A.) -- for her children's books. Not without her share of controversy due to her books containing characters which some consider racist (e.g., golliwogs in her nursery tales and funny French teachers in her boarding school stories), I still will maintain that she it was who played a major plus early role in sending along the path to -- is this a word? ;D -- bookwormery!

2) Louisa M. Alcott (1832-1888): Say the name of this 19th century American author to most bibliophiles and one book in particular, Little Women, will come to mind. A true children's classic, this 1867 work has not only been translated into many languages but also spawned film adaptations; the most recent of which starred Winona Ryder and the most famous of which had Katherine Hepburn playing Josephine "Jo" March.

Strange as it may seem though, I actually preferred the popular novel's two more male-filled sequels, Little Men and Jo's Boys, to that which got the "March Family Saga" going. (Alternatively, I find it altogether appropriate that Good Wives -- the book which came in between Little Women and Little Men -- is the work by this life-long spinster which I found the least attractive!)

3) Elinor M. Brent-Dyer(1894-1969): Like Ms. Alcott, Ms. Brent-Dyer's most famous works featured characters named Josephine (or Jo, for short) and Margaret (although in the latter case, she gets nicknamed Madge rather than Meg). (And yes, I don't think this was an entirely coincidental development!) Unlike Ms. Alcott -- and more like Ms. Blyton -- however, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was English and she contributed a great deal to that very British literary genre known as the boarding school story.

In particular, this particular author is best known -- and beloved even -- for her Chalet School series of 58 (some say 59) books; some devoted fans of which have banded together to form an official Friends of the Chalet School group. And while I'm not a paid up member of that association, suffice to say that I like the highly addictive Chalet School books so much that I've been inspired to go visit some of the locations -- namely, those in the Austrian Tyrol, Bernese Oberland and Channel Islands -- which are associated with them! ;b

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lost in translation?

Peking Opera Blues screen captures

As many English subtitle reliant Hong Kong movie fans will readily tell you, sometimes, you have to question what gets translated from Cantonese (or some other dialect of Chinese) to English in Hong Kong.

Below are a couple items of interest which are available to be read in their entirety at the New York Times' website. However, since registration is required in order to read this at the original source and some people might not wish to bother to do so, here's going ahead and reproducing pertinent portions from the two relevant pages:-

i) Richard F. Shepherd's 25th January, 1989, review of Peking Opera Blues (Hong Kong, 1986):-

While it can be funny and vivid, the film has a disconnected quality that makes it extraordinarily difficult to follow. The English subtitles are so daffy that the eye waits for the next malapropism instead of watching the story itself. At one point, a soldier says ''Catch him,'' when the Chinese is actually saying, according to someone familiar with the language, ''Salute him.'' Wishes for success come to the subtitle as ''Congratulations for your defeat.'' And what does ''I want to you for the last time'' mean?...

...It's a spectacle, no doubt, but if there were no subtitles, one might follow it more easily.

ii) Nansun Shi's surely admirably as well as remarkably candid 19 March, 1989, Letter to the Editor (which is entitled "PEKING OPERA BLUES; Substandard Subtitles"):-

I am the wife of Tsui Hark, the director of ''Peking Opera Blues''..., and I am writing on his behalf. We regret that your reviewer, Richard Shepard, had to suffer the awful subtitles, which we are aware of and yet are unable to do anything about. Due to the system of production in Hong Kong, very often the film maker is not in a position to see the film released as it should be. This letter is not so much an excuse as an attempt to try and clarify for you what must seem to be a totally senseless thing to do - to spend a large sum of money and time on shooting and very little on postproduction...

...As few films get released in non-Chinese markets, very little regard is given to the English subtitles. It is indeed a great pity sometimes, especially if a Hong Kong film is invited to film festivals. The same old print would be sent - bad subtitles, poor print quality and all...

And should you wonder: About the only Pollyanna-ish spin that I can put on this situation is to suggest that it says much about many English subtitles-dependent fans of Hong Kong movies' general tolerance -- along with ability to transcend linguistic as well as cultural barriers -- that so many of us are able to appreciate and love the remarkable cinematic work that is Peking Opera Blues even though it comes saddled with the substandard English subtitles that it does... :S

(N.B. This entry has been much edited so that the latest version is quite different for its original. However, I trust that those who have read all the versions will agree with me that the action taken was for the best.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The world's smallest national park (Photo-essay)

A couple of weekends ago, I went hiking -- frozen shoulder and all -- in
the world's smallest national park with a few friends. Conveniently, I didn't have to leave my island home because, as it so happens, the gazetted area which claims this distinction is located in the northwest corner of Penang island.

For the record, Penang National Park (or, to give it its name in Bahasa Malaysia, Taman Negara Pulau Pinang) covers an area of just 25.62 square kilometers. (In contrast, Denmark's Greenland National Park, which lays claim to being the world's largest national park is 972,000 square kilometers in size -- and larger than England and France combined!)

What Penang's sole national park lacks in size though, it makes up for in biological richness and diversity. Hills, sandy and rocky beaches, coastal forests, mangrove jungles, wetlands, mudflats, streams and Malaysia's only meromictic lake all can be found within that which used to be known as the Pantai Acheh Forest Reserve until it was gazetted as a national park on 5th April, 2003. Ditto a variety of fauna (though I didn't catch sight of all that many of these on my recent visit).

Something else that is apparent even to the untrained eye is how beautiful much of it is. And it is hoped that this -- along with a sense of this "little green pocket"'s ecological diversity -- comes through in the following photographs (all of which I took over the course of my recent exhausting, but still enjoyable, day trip). :)

Deep inside Penang National Park

Where jungle meets rocky beach,
and rocky beach meets the waters of the Malacca Straits

about a two hour hike away from the park entrance

The rockier part of Pantai Keracut

A dry looking portion of the meromictic lake

A view with more water and sunshine

A slice of equatorial paradise

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Beyond hamburgers, hot dogs and pizzas

Hamburgers, hot dogs and pizzas. Ask many people outside the U.S.A. what constitutes American food and that's pretty much it as far as they're concerned. Which is pretty sad since there's so much more to American food than that -- and no, I don't just mean Kentucky Fried Chicken either!

Also, believe it or not, the best burgers and hot dogs I -- who lived for close to fifteen years in the U.S.A. -- have ever eaten are to be found over here in Malaysia -- specifically, at Penang's Tari Cafe -- while some of the best pizzas I've ever eaten were ones I devoured over at the Italian-owned and -operated Zee Bar & Zee Pizza in Zanzibar, Tanzania! (And especially for those who are inclined to scoff at the idea that the world's best burgers are to be found on the opposite side of the globe from the U.S.A. plus have heartier appetites than moi, I've got two words for you: i.e., Ramly Burger!! ;b)

On the other hand, the following are some American foods which I've sampled in my time in the U.S.A. that I've not (yet) come across better rival -- or
truly equivalent import -- versions of outside of their home country (or, come to think of it, home region):-

1) Krispy Kreme donuts: Originally found in the American South alone, the Krispy Kreme empire has expanded in the past decade or so beyond North Carolina and its neighboring states to places like New York, California, Britain, Japan and Hong Kong.

This recent development notwithstanding, I will forever associate these melt-in-your-mouth delicious baked -- actually, scrap that and substitute with deep fried instead! -- goods with the southern section of the U.S.A. and, particularly, a trip to Atlanta, Georgia, where there lives a friend of mine who buys Krispy Kreme donuts by the dozen and will train his car like a torpedo at a Krispy Kreme store whose "hot light" is turned on to indicate that -- to quote from the official Krispy Kreme website -- "our Original Glazed yeast-raised doughnuts are coming out RIGHT AT THAT MOMENT! So come on in and get some HOT!" :b

2) Navajo tacos: Also called "Indian tacos" (because other Native Americans besides the Navajo have adopted this dish), this Southwestern American dish may look from afar like a green salad topped pizza. Get closer, however, and it turns out to be a substantial concoction with many ingredients in common as a "regular" "Tex-Mex" taco (e.g., ground beef and refried and/or chili beans along with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, salsa and sour cream) but a "fry bread" base rather than, well, the maize tortillas which give them name to Americanized "Tex-Mex" tacos.

2a) Navajo fry bread: The fried dough base of the Navajo taco can also be eaten with a honey topping; and if you feel really decadent, you can also throw in some powdered sugar into the mix! This way, it is a more sinful dessert than anything else. However, you can ease your guilt somewhat by being environmentally friendly and eating this yummy heritage food with your hands -- sans utensils -- and minus a plate into the bargain! ;D

3) Cheese curds: From the American Midwest, particularly Wisconsin (AKA "the Dairyland of America"), comes a regional delicacy that has been described -- I'm not sure how seriously though! -- as "an orangish cheese byproduct that feels like Silly Putty but tastes a lot better"!! When fresh, these semi-solid bite-sized cheese morsels don't only squeak but might make cheese heads want to squeak with delight too after downing some of these fun snack foods!!! When (beer) batter- or deep fried, they can turn a bit gooey inside but still make for an artery-clogging delight that surpasses french fries or onion rings pretty much any time.

4) Bagels: At Beloit College, I had a beloved professor who would request that his advisees who ventured out to the Northeast U.S.A. for mid-term or Thanksgiving break bring back some bagels for him. Although I did partake of a few of the mass-produced pre-packaged variety in the Midwest, I never understood how and why anyone could like this Jewish culinary invention so much until I moved out east to Philadelphia -- whose own bagel innovation is known as the Eggel: think egg and cheese bagel sandwich -- and sampled some bagels which came from bona fide delicatessens -- "delis" for short -- and bagel bakeries.

And now? Well, suffice to say that these days, they are among the few American products that I actually find myself fondly remembering and even outright missing! And
this especially if the bagels in question come coated with sesame seeds, toasted, and served with chive and onion flavored Philadelphia cream cheese plus lox!

5) Vanilla yogurt-covered raisins and pretzels: Speaking of items which I miss...a couple of nights ago, I found myself dreaming that I was in a mega-sized plus very American grocery store, the kind with scores of food-filled aisles that I could happily spend hours browsing and shopping in. And what, of the hundreds of choices of food items on offer, did I decide to pick up while there? Why, some vanilla yogurt- covered raisins -- a snack food which I used to chomp down by the fistful -- and pretzels (the saltier and, to my mind, less healthy alternative to the raisins), of course. Oh, and some of those tarty-sweet dried cranberries (AKA "craisins") -- which I also went through a spell of being addicted to -- too... ;S

Friday, January 26, 2007


I've just returned from my first ever acupuncture session and, as befits the (diligent) blogger that I've become, feel compelled to not only record the experience but also give due warning to my readers that this may result in a couple days or so of non-blogging on my part.

In brief: For the past month or so, I've been suffering from an ailment known as "frozen shoulder". During this time, I've been regularly going for physiotherapy sessions and, at these tri-weekly sessions, undergoing conventional Western medical treatments involving such as Ultrasound and other modes of electro- along with cold therapy. However, recently, my recovery has appeared to plateau; causing my physiotherapist -- as befits the East-West-influenced Malaysian that she is -- to suggest that I give acupuncture a go.

After a few days of mulling over this suggestion, I decided to take the plunge today. Or, rather, I decided to allow my physiotherapist to plunge a couple of needles into me!

Shortly before she did so, this trusted physiotherapist told me that I wouldn't feel much pain when the needles go in. As my exclamations of "owww!" plus "bullshit!!" in the wake of the needles being stuck into me were to amply prove, however, this did not turn out to be the case!

To be fair, the sharp pain that was initially felt as a result of the actual piercing soon subsided. However, what proved to be a rather strange -- as well as somewhat painful -- experience is that one proceeds to feel pain -- or, at least, soreness and aches -- in other parts of the body beyond the actual puncture point.

More specifically, in my case, although the two needles stuck into me were stuck into my back, my right shoulder's front area soon started manifesting a dull sensation and -- equally weirdly and even worse -- so too did the right side of my neck all the way up to my ear! Indeed, by the time I left the clinic, not only did I feel like an invisible individual was tugging at -- and wringing!! -- my ear but the right side of my jaw and my right cheek had started to ache as well!!!

One hour on, my right ear -- particularly the earlobe -- is feeling rather numb and my shoulder still aches. I've been assured though that all this falls within the perimeters of "normality" in terms of patient reactions (even while most people don't have such, um, extreme reactions). Also, that this is the pain before the recovery and period which will see me feeling better. But since that looked forward to period may not kick in until tomorrow (i.e., some 24 hours after the treatment)... :S

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hello Kitty returns!

A few more items from my Sanrio collection :)

Close up of that which I call my Hello Kitty egg

Yup, the egg's actually a toothpick holder! :D

A little less than two weeks ago, I wrote an entry about the kawaii-ness of Hello Kitty and her ilk. Judging from the number of comments it elicited, it appears to be among the more popular of my blog's entries. Alternatively put: The reactions to it seem to suggest that there are some Hello Kitty fans -- and general appreciators of kawaii-ness -- to be found among this blog's visitors. :)

With this in mind, here's offering up a few more photographs of Hello Kitty-iana -- and, as a bonus, one little Winki Pinki plush! -- and a link to a report of a Hello Kitty-themed wedding that's due to take place in Hong Kong this upcoming Valentine's Day. (Apropos of nothing: Yes, I have noticed that Hello Kitty and Hong Kong -- where Hello Kitty-themed items abound -- have the same initials!)

Additionally, its name notwithstanding, I have little doubt that fans of Hello Kitty will find the blog named
Hello Kitty Hell to be kawaii heaven. So, whenever the need to view Hello Kitty items -- ranging from food (and drink) to futons to fire extinguishers! -- strikes, you now know where to go... ;b

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hong Kong movie fan haunts

Last weekend, two friends -- and fellow Hong Kong movie fans (cum bloggers!) -- came over to visit from Kuala Lumpur. At various points, as is our wont, we got to talking about Hong Kong movies, Hong Kong movie books and Hong Kong itself. During one of these sessions, I belatedly discovered that I somehow had hitherto not introduced them to Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins' Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head: The Essential Guide to Hong Kong's Mind-Bending Films (New York: Fireside, 1996) -- a zesty read which added its share of fuel to my fledgling Hong Kong movie born-again tendencies all those years ago -- and made haste to remedy the situation.

Some hours after my buddies had taken their leave, I got to independently browsing through some of my other Hong Kong movie books. While turning the pages of Stefan Hammond's follow-up work, the lesser but still quite informative Hollywood East: Hong Kong Movies and the People Who Make Them (New York: Contemporary Books, 2000), I found myself re-reading the section entitled the HK film freak's perfect Hong Kong day in the tome's in situ chapter...and getting inspired to write my own version. So, after having mulled over the available options some more, here it is:-

For starters, since one is assuming that the Hong Kong film nut is on vacation in Hong Kong (rather than working there), I'll suggest that -- unless it's a weekend, in which case several cinemas have morning shows that one can go to (and save with, since they're priced cheaper than shows scheduled for later in the day) -- it's okay to sleep in and get a fairly late start to the day.

Before leaving your hotel for the day though, one would do well to buy a copy of the South China Morning Post and browse through its movie listings section (as show times are liable to change from day to day in Hong Kong). Also, I'd suggest fueling yourself with such as a couple of rich -- plus very tasty -- egg tarts and the powerful Hong Kong version of nai cha (trans., "milk tea") to help prepare for what will invariably be a long as well as full day!

If film schedules are ideal, I'd then suggest that the day start off with a movie at a Mongkok location like the Broadway Mongkok -- a cinema which can feel like it's filled with the kind of characters (particularly goo wat jai (loose translated as "Triad boyz"!) who populate Hong Kong movies! -- or within the more state-of-the-art UA cinema at Langham Place.

One reason for putting forth this suggestion is that Mongkok is one of those Hong Kong districts whose locations have appeared in many Hong Kong movies. (E.g., think One Nite in Mongkok!) So, being there can feel like being in a Hong Kong movie to a Hong Kong movie nut like moi... ;)

For another, as Tim Youngs' invaluable A visitor's guide to movie shopping in Hong Kong readily reveals, Mongkok is where many of Hong Kong's best video shops are located. In particular, whenever I go to Hong Kong, I never fail to pay a visit to the Original Video store located at 36 Mongkok Road which has very competitive prices indeed as well as a very comprehensive stock of Hong Kong movie videos.

At the same time though, I also do like to check out the Original Video store at 71 Sai Yee Street (whose stock can vary from the other and bigger Mongkok location) and the Widesight branch on Sai Yeung Choi Street -- which has quite a nice selection of Hong Kong DVD releases of Japanese films as well as is only minutes away from the Broadway Mongkok. Additionally, as my movie interests have broadened to include Korean and Mainland Chinese films, I've also taken to patronising the stores in the basement mall at 6 Nelson Street that stock those territories' movies.

However, in recent years, I've taken off the Sino Centre and Allied Plaza from my visiting list as the former looks to have more "Category IV" and other non-legitimate movies and materials than anything else these days while the latter no longer houses Kenny's Hong Kong movie collectibles shop (from where I got such as my Ashes of Time photobook and set of Peking Opera Blues lobby cards!). Still, and lest you worry that there are no more movie-themed stores to plunder, be rest assured that there still are more places for the film fan to splash the cash!

So, if there's room left in your bag(s), head south from Mongkok to the neighboring district Yau Ma Tei. There you'll find within the Prosperous Garden Housing Estate -- and close to the Yau Ma Tei police station which has made appearances in Hong Kong movies, including Metade Fumaca and the first Election -- the Broadway Cinematheque, home to an art house cineplex but also a bookstore cum library named Kubrick and a DVD shop with an incredible -- to say the least -- international selection.

If you have time to catch a movie at the Broadway Cinematheque, go ahead and do so! If not, go lighten your load by depositing your shopping booty in your hotel room, take the opportunity to splash some cold water on your face and generally freshen up before setting out again -- this time out to Sai Wan Ho on the north-east side of Hong Kong Island. For the outbound leg of the trip there, I recommend the MTR (for the uninitiated: Hong Kong's underground train service and system).

Unless it's a Thursday (the one day of the week when it's closed) or there are evening screenings scheduled, the aim is to arrive at the invaluable facility that is the Hong Kong Film Archive before 7 p.m. For then, you can avail yourself of this Sai Wan Ho attraction's splendid Resource Centre (think movie books and magazines galore but also audio-visual materials!) as well as take in whatever is on show at its well-curated Exhibition Hall and/or Cinema plus go and purchase those of its publications which strike your fancy from its Box Office.

Post satiating your Hong Kong movie appetite, it might suddenly dawn on you that you may not have made time for lunch today! Fortunately, you'll find that there are plenty of eateries near the Hong Kong Film Archive and the Sai Wan Ho MTR station. And after eating your fill at the food place of your choice (be it the McDonalds opposite the entrance to the MTR station or somewhere serving culinary fare that's more exotic), I'll recommend that you take it easy for the rest of what's left of the day (and maybe even night). ;)

In line with that last suggestion, I'd recommend a leisurely ride back across the north side of Hong Kong Island by tram. (There's a tram stop on the main street close to the Sai Wan Ho MTR station.)
Especially scenic in the evening, this tram ride also will be sure to evoke more movie memories for the Hong Kong film nut since tram rides feature in a multitude of Hong Kong movies (e.g., Tempting Heart, Nomad, The Longest Summer and Last Ghost Standing). As such, I reckon that it makes for a rather nice way to officially bring a Hong Kong movie freak's perfect Hong Kong day to a close... :b

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mount Aso photo-essay

Last year, when I visited
Mount Aso -- variously described as Japan's and the world's largest volcano! -- in Kyushu, Japan, not only did memories of the two geology courses I took at Beloit College come flooding back but, also, the words of Carl Mendelson, one of the College's most colorful as well as dedicated professors.

("How colorful?" I hear you ask. Well, let's just say that this man would bake multi- plus flourescent-colored layer cakes and then do all sorts of things with them with his bare hands to demonstrate the principles of plate techtonics! And, along with his wife as well as fellow geologist,
Carol Mankiewicz, make snow dinosaurs in the front yard of their house each winter! And...well, I think you get the picture! :b)

In a nutshell: Carl announced at the beginning of the introductory geology course that I took with him and then Beloit geology department chairman,
Henry "Chief" Woodard, that upon completing it, its students would never look at rocks the same way again. And not only would we be able to view rocks in a scientific manner but we also would be able to look upon them -- and associated geological formations plus other natural features -- as things of beauty.

I trust that the following photos which I took while inside the
Aso Caldera will constitute evidence that I took my geology professor's words to heart. Alternatively put, aren't these beautiful? :b

All looks green, lush and calm from here...

Scenic view of the world's largest crater that is the Aso caldera

Fertile grassland and grazing cattle are bountiful
within the
approximately 128 km. in circumference crater

The craggy features of certain of the mountains
provide a clue though that Aso National Park contains
geological features that need to be treated with respect

And lest there be any doubt:
Yes, Naka-dake, one of Mount Aso's five peaks
is still most definitely active (and sulphurous)!

Behold: Further geological features laid bare
-- and looking lovely as well as rugged? :b

OTOH, this looks like a veritable natural Zen garden to me!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A book that shouldn't be judged by its cover

Cheaply packaged but lovingly written

Write about what you know best. If you're interested in something you don't know much about, immerse yourself in it, see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, taste it, think and feel and live and dream it. Then only should you dare to write about it.

That was the advice tendered by Buya Hamka, a real-life Indonesian writer, to Ayu, the young female protagonist of Malaysian author Adibah Amin's first novel in the English language. And readers of This End of the Rainbow (Phoenix Press, 2006) should have little doubt that not only did Ayu take it to heart but so too did Adibah (who, despite her protestations that the work is not autobiographical, clearly has much in common with her sensitive and idealistic book's sensitive and idealistic heroine).

(More than by the way, for those who are wondering why I'm addressing this long-time observer cum chronicler of Malaysian life and mores by her first name, it's not because she and I are on first name terms but, rather, because she is ethnically a Malay and, like most other Malaysian Malays, she does not have her surname. Instead, her "Amin" actually identifies who her father is/was and if I were to talk of Amin vis a vis her, it would be her father as opposed to her per se!)

Getting back to the book (whose appeal, more than by the way, I feel should plus will not be limited to Malaysians): A few pages earlier, Adibah -- who taught Bahasa Malaysia and English in secondary schools in Kuala Lumpur and (Malaysia's) Language Institute before becoming a reporter and, later still, a full-time writer -- had mentioned that Ayu was contemplating a career in teaching and writing. Also, that Ayu was quite confident that "she could be a really a good teacher." On the other hand, however:-

Her writing was something else. She knew she could not stop scribbling, but in darker moments she wondered if she had any real talent. Then she told herself that the only way to find out was to go on trying.

Readers of this tale which centers on a group of young friends in early 1950s, pre-independence Malaya(which then included Singapore, as can be seen by many of the featured characters being of the educational institution which then was known as the University of Malaya, Singapore) are fated to never find out whether Ayu went on to become a successful writer since the story draws to a close shortly after the Johorean lass and her undergraduate friends completed what was only their first year at university.

Chances are high though that they will consider the author of that which is simultaneously a mature commentary on Malaysian ethnic relations as well as charming character-driven novel as having proved over the years that she truly does have a talent for writing. And be very glad that Adibah persisted with writing a work which she latterly revealed that she had been working on -- in her own words -- "in bits and pieces" since 1952 and only recently "finally found the courage to let...see the light of day"!

In her review of This End of the Rainbow (which appeared in The Star newspaper as well as her own blog), Daphne Lee praised Adibah's book for being "warm-hearted and full of passionate, loving and sincere characters who are very believable ... probably because many are based on real people, known to the author. " This is a critique which I whole-heartedly agree with.

Something else about the work which shines through for me is how courageous its author is for: recognising that Malaysians have some ways to go still before true inter-ethnic harmony, forget cultural and natural integration, is to be achieved; openly admitting that ethnic and cultural differences do exist (but, virtually in the next breath, suggesting that they matter as much or little in the great scheme of things as other differences like that between a girl who loves to write and another who is afraid of putting her feelings on paper) ; and for committing to print the kind of frank conversations about "race" which will make many of her countrymen and -women gasp in shock at the sheer audacity and honesty of it all.

Should there be any doubt: This very readable 143-page book -- which I finished in a single sitting -- does not appear to suffer one jot from its having had the long gestation period that it did. Indeed, its evocative story struck me as being eminently pertinent for our contemporary times (even if also tinged with nostalgia for a more idealistic era); and this not least since both now as well as then, for many -- if not all -- Malaysians, the ultimate "pot of gold" on the other end of the alluded-to rainbow remains -- once more in the admirable Adibah's words -- "our shared dream of lasting harmony". One which our multi-cultural, -ethnic and -religious country surely cannot afford to, at the very least, seek to aspire towards fulfilling.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Two month anniversary comments

Two months ago today, I became -- like millions of others before me -- a blogger. Inspired by some friends who had their own blogs (which I read assiduously) as well as motivated by a need to do such as record certain thoughts and recollections which I thought worthy before they faded from my memory, I decided to write some words and then, after a few weeks had gone by, to go about seeing whether there was a receptive audience for them.

First, some happy news: i.e., that today saw this blog's daily visitors exceeding 100 -- and for the record, the last time I checked (which was a few minutes ago!), the exact number was 137 -- and the total number of page views in a single day exceed 200 for the first time ever. And to add to the cheer is my being able to report that the healthy number of comments that have thus far appeared in the comments sections of the forty-four Webs of Significance entries I had written as of yesterday have largely been of the non-spam -- and, in fact, often nicely complimentary and pretty much always interesting or helpful in -- nature.

Unfortunately though, as the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously put it, "Into each life a little rain must fall". And as far as my experiences as a blogger goes, there have been two kinds of rain in particular which have irritated, frustrated and even got me feeling downright irate.

Part of me -- in particular the part of me that really does want to be able to look on the bright side of things rather than the dark or downright bad -- doesn't want to dwell nor devote too much time and space to discussing them. And I won't about one of my major blogging annoyances beyond stating that I despise spam, regardless of whether it comes into my e-mail in box, as s.m.s. (AKA text) messages on my mobile (AKA cel) phone, in the form of mechanized or real human voice messages over the phone or are logged onto the comments sections of my blog.

However, I feel a need to vent and report more lengthily that yesterday, I discovered that some of this blog's contents -- in particular, the evidently quite popular recent entry on "10 "kick ass women" movies" -- have been stolen by some other bloggers. Now I know that one wag has memorably suggested that "Imitation is the best form of flattery" and that may be well and true as far as some people are concerned.

But believe you me when I assert that that's not how I feel about what, in fact, is actually more outright theft than flattering imitation (or even generous -- for the borrower that is! -- borrowing). And it of course only feels like salt getting rubbed on my wounds when a few of these errant bloggers -- all of whom I really hope will get their just desserts at some point in their future and miserable lives -- turn out to have blogs which are most definitely of the X-rated variety. >:

Should you think otherwise however, let me hasten to assure you that I'm not thinking of bring my blogging to a halt or close anytime soon. For, in all sincerity, I do feel that my blogging experiences have been pretty happy and satisfying for the most part.

This is not least because my blogging -- as I have largely done -- about what I like and even love has gotten me thinking good and happy thoughts for hours on end. Then there is my actually coming to feel like I have found not only a fair amount of willing plus valued readers, many of whom have become repeat visitors to the blog, but also some people -- from a whole bunch of different places to boot! -- to share my passions, interests, ideas, etc. with. Oh, and finding out that this blog currently tops Google Blog Search search results for "Brigitte Lin", "Lin Ching-Hsia" and "Winki Pinki" -- though, alas, not "Hello Kitty", "Totoro" nor "Arsenal", etc.! -- can strike me as being pretty cool too... ;b

In fact, rather than get cowed by the bad apples and consider limiting access to my writings (like my web host actually offers as an option), what I'd like to do is to explicitly request that those of you who have enjoyed your visits to this blog thus far go ahead and spread the word about it to those who you think might also like what it offers up. (And this especially if you haven't done so already!) Oh, and keep on visiting yourselves, of course (plus rest assured that you have my sincere thanks for doing so)! :)

Monday, January 15, 2007


Yesterday, I asked what Tracy Chapman, George Lucas, Glenn Close, Thandie Newton, Billy Graham, Octavio Paz, Michael Crichton, Tess Gerritsen, Steve Riggio, Jomo Kenyatta, Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe and Britain's Prince Charles have in common.

After a reader suggested that they may have all appeared in TIME magazine, I thought I had better qualify the question further -- or, at least, the answer that I had in mind -- by noting that the common link that I was thinking of is one that I also share with these twelve personalities. At the same time though, and for the record plus contrary to another reader's suggestion: no, it's not something incredibly general like "You can play six degrees of separation with them..."! ;b

Instead, the answer which I'm going to tender is one which I think will come as a surprise to many of you: i.e., that like Yours Truly, they all were anthropology students at some point in their life. More than by the way, filmmaker Jane Campion, singer-actress Ashley Judd and science-fiction writer Joan D. Vinge are three other individuals who studied anthropology at university! (And should you doubt this, just go ahead and check out the pieces that I've linked to them in this entry!)

At this point, some of you might (next) wish to ask: What is anthropology anyways? Well, if you go and consult an English dictionary, chances are that you will read that the word "anthropology" is derived from the Greek word anthropos -- which translates into "humans" in English -- and a suffix "-ology" which denotes "the study of". (Thus, sociology is the study of society, and psychology is the study of the psyche, etc.). Briefly then, anthropology is the study of humans. Or, as Margaret Mead would wittily have it: "the study of man, embracing woman"! ;)

The eminently quotable Margaret Mead also has described anthropology as being about "intimate interpersonal understanding". And if I could expand on that idea, it would be to go ahead and suggest that anthropology is more than merely a particular field of study but, rather, also a particular outlook and way of viewing the world that's designed to help people make sense of others plus promote cross-cultural communication, interactions and understanding.

At one level, this may all sound rather airy-fairy and theoretical. However, I'd like to put forward that on another, it's far from that. Indeed, I'd go as far as to submit that, increasingly, as the world globalizes still further, it can only benefit humanity to learn about the different and many ways to be human; and to open people's -- including our own -- minds to other socio-cultural ways of living, acting and thinking.

As if to stress this, another anthropologist, Keith Basso, noted back in 1979 that: Making sense of other people is never easy, and making sense of how other people make sense can be very difficult indeed. is something that must be done, especially when the welfare of whole societies may be at stake... (In his Portraits of "The Whiteman": Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols among the Western Apache, Cambridge University Press).

On a personal note, I think that another of anthropology's great uses lies in its helping -- plus encouraging -- those who study plus embrace its teachings to look less narrowly at the world and, in particular, to look beyond the tried and true that we tend to somewhat automatically do.

Admittedly, I'm yet another person who no longer officially is a card-carrying anthropologist. Nonetheless, I feel that anthropology opened my mind to a whole range of possibilities which I hadn't previously considered or even knew existed. And in so doing, it's made my world that much bigger as well deepened my understanding -- and, often times, appreciation too -- of much of it.