Monday, April 30, 2007

Last post from Penang

A view from Penang Hill
(which, in some ways, could be described as
Penang's version of Hong Kong's Victoria Peak! ;b)

"All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go..." That's the first line of a John Denver song that was a favorite of mine many years back. And it also is a pretty good summation of how I feel as I sit in front of my computer to compose the last blog entry that I'll be writing from least until I return to my family home at some point down the road. (I'm thinking maybe at the end of this year.)

I had hoped that this post could be longer and more well thought out than what I'm currently producing. (More precisely, I actually was thinking that it'd be nice -- and/or make for interesting reading -- for me to not only link to the recently announced news regarding what have been voted as Malaysia's top ten favorite fiction books but also post my own list of top ten favorite fiction books in response to it.)

Alas, however, time flies when one is packing, saying au revoirs and otherwise getting ready to leave another phase of one's life so that yet another can begin.

So before I turn in for the night (and have this blog go on what hopefully will be but a brief hiatus), here's "just" going ahead and thanking all of you who have written, be it on the comments section of yesterday's blog entry or by e-mail, to send along congratulations, wish me well, tender advice and signal your willingness to meet up with me after I get in to Hong Kong.

Also, I hope that the folks concerned won't mind if I don't personally respond to some of them for some time but do please rest assured that I have been/am reading these notes and will endeavor to respond to them at some point in the near future. :)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Blog talk and moving announcement

What I've felt like I've been walking on
for a large part of the last few days! ;b

As some of you may have noticed, something has been awry with this blog's "Labels" section for a few weeks now. For example, and for reason that I can't fathom, although I have personally only attached a "HKIFF" label to a total of fourteen out of -- including today's -- the one hundred and thirty-nine posts on this blog, the section of Blogger that's charged with counting such things appears insistent that their actual number is thirty-seven.

Additionally, although I have attached a "Mainland China" label on to only eleven of this blog's posts, the relevant section of Blogger has, again, decided to inflate the number -- this time up to twenty-six! At the same time, although the number of posts labelled "Hong Kong" and "Penang" respectively also have been artificially inflated by the Blogger machinery, it's true enough that there are more Hong Kong- than Penang-focused posts on this blog.

This is something that may strike some of you who are reading this as on the weird side. After all, as I have revealed on this blog, I not only currently reside in Penang but it also is where I was born, was raised for the most part, and is the part of the world which I consider to be my ancestral home; with at least one branch of my family being able to trace back its residence in this area by at least five generations in addition to my parents having been true blue Penangites years before Malaysia achieved its political independence from Britain.

However, the fact of the matter is that I've actually spent more years of my life outside of Penang than in it. For the record: These include a spell at boarding school in Britain, four years at college at Beloit (in Wisconsin, U.S.A.), eleven years or so -- spread over two separate spells -- in Philadelphia (also in the U.S.A.), two years in Tanzania, and another two years working in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia's capital city) before I returned once more to Penang in August 2005.

And as far as Hong Kong is concerned...well, firstly, the cinema of Hong Kong has been a big passion of mine for some years now. Furthermore, at some point amidst it all, my love of Hong Kong movies got me starting to love the territory from whence they came and which many of them so lovingly and vividly as well as colorfully depict; and to such an extent that I not only took to regularly visiting Hong Kong but nursing fantasies and dreams of some day getting to live there.

To cut what could be a pretty long story short: In only a little bit more than thirty-six hours from now, I will be getting ready to board a plane that will send me on my way to making that dream into reality. Put in more prosaic terms: four days ago, I formally accepted a job offer that will see me start work in Hong Kong on May 2nd, 2007 (i.e., just three days from today!)!

As you can imagine, it was quite the scramble to find a place to live in time for that fast looming start date! But a place -- in one of those parts of Hong Kong which has been featured in more than one local Hong Kong movie, no less! ;b -- has indeed been found that should at least temporarily serve my purposes.

At the same time though, since it's minus a broadband connection -- until I arrive and arrange for that to be set up -- and other certain items, I foresee that it will be a while before I will have the opportunity to regularly log on to the internet from my Hong Kong home. (By the way, I just felt a shiver go down my spine as I wrote the phrase "my Hong Kong home" there!)

When all this is coupled with the pretty strong likelihood that I'll be using up lots of energy, nervous and otherwise, at work there and spending a lot of my time besides doing the necessary to feel like -- and actually become! -- a real Hong Kong resident, I think it would be best to place this blog on hiatus for at least a week or two. (Right now, my plan is to try to fit in one more blog entry tomorrow but the way things are or are getting to be (i.e., frenzied!), I don't dare to unconditionally promise that this will happen...)

With that, I'm off to do more bidding of au revoirs along with preparing and packing for the trip -- nay, move! -- post haste!!! And to those of you readers who are Hong Kong residents: Yes, I sure would appreciate any advice and tips that you think that is worth offering me with regards to working and/or living in Hong Kong... :b

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Rare (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

The Kek Lok Si Temple (AKA "Temple of Supreme Bliss" or "Pure Land Temple") that's situated on Huock San (trans. Crane Hill) is said to be the most visited tourist spot in Penang. This prominent local landmark which can be seen from miles away and dominates the surrounding Air Itam (AKA Air Hitam; trans., "Black Water"!) area -- yet appears to still be constantly being added to! -- also is widely considered to be one of the finest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia as well as is generally recognized as the largest Buddhist temple complex in Muslim majority Malaysia.

In the middle of my photograph of what is just only a section of the Kek Lok Si Temple stands its most famous structure: A rare -- unique, even -- pagoda variously known as the Pagoda of Rama VI (on account of the temple's foundation stone having been laid in 1915 by King Rama VI of neighboring Thailand) as well as the Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas (because it supposedly is home to ten thousand images of Buddha; many of them affixed on to the interior walls of the structure).

"So what makes this pagoda so rare?" I hear you ask. In order to answer this question, let me direct you to look carefully at the seven storey monument in question and point out that it's actually an amalgamation of architectural styles from not one but three different major Buddhist cultures. (By the way, if you click on the image above, you will be shown an enlarged version of the photograph.)

More specifically, the 30 meter high pagoda combines a Chinese octagonal base with a tre-foil arcade- and niche-rich middle tier that is of Thai design and a Burmese domed crown; with the idea behind this being that this religious tower physically testifies to the Kek Lok Si Temple's embracing of not only Mahayana Buddhism (as represented by its Chinese elements) but also Theravada Buddhism (as represented by its Thai and Burmese sections).

On a secular note: I'm inclined to look at this cultural and architectural mixing as yet another example of the general Malaysian tendency towards "rojakness" -- this despite the pagoda's construction having pre-dated the creation of Malaysia, the country, by a few decades -- that I discussed some months back on this blog and, frankly, would love to see more of, be it in this country or pretty much elsewhere... :)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Tiled beauty (Photo-essay)

Many people, as is their wont, don't bother to look at what is under their feet. This can seem like a real pity; and perhaps particularly so in Penang. One reason for my thinking this is that, given the dilapidated condition of some of the drain covers -- or, in some cases, their outright absence! -- in George Town, to not look where walk when you're walking about Penang's capital city can bring about a pretty unpleasant fall into a yucky drain!

For another, to not at least look down on occasion when you walk on the side of a Penang road, lane and street -- or into one of the traditional shops or houses in town -- is to risk missing out on beholding the beauty that's right below your feet. More specifically, as this photo-essay seeks to show this blog's readers, a whole bunch of colorful plus patterned floor tiles can be found adorning many a verandahed and pedestrian five-foot way and traditional shophouse or more regular house floor over here.

From what I've been given to understand, the local proclivity towards having these decorated tiles actually began with a practical need to protect walls from water splashing off roads and nearby monsoon drains. (The latter of which, for those who've never seen them, are quite a bit deeper than most other drains found in parts of the world which aren't regularly lashed by monsoon rains.)

As time went by though, the practical became mixed with artistic tendencies and elements. And when the architectural style known as Straits Eclectic reached its zenith, public and private floor spaces as well as the walls of houses got covered with sets of colorful tiles, some of which were imported from as far away as Britain (i.e., the colonizers' native land) to this Southeast Asian space that's been made all the richer for their inclusion into the local built landscape.

Examples of both wall and floor tile decorations
over here in Penang

Part of a colorfully tiled five-foot way
in a residential area in inner city George Town

A close-up view of tiled beauty

A photo of steps as well as more good floor tile examples
that I had thought about choosing
to feature in last week's
Photo Hunt entry ;)

Some five-foot ways possess interesting borders
along with the more "usual" groups of patterned tiles

The decorated (including with floor tiles)
interior of
East Xiamen Delicacies,
a restaurant specializing in Teochew food
located in Love Lane (yes, really!), Penang

A view of a five-foot way along a stretch of road
that is home to a row of traditional shophouses
that have latterly been converted into restaurants and bars

Another close-up view of tiled beauty
(this time with the added "bonus" of three of my toes
and part of a sandal in it! ;D)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ask and ye shall receive (Some answers, that is!)

Another day, another meme. This one came courtesy of
Collecting Tokens' Alejna and, interestingly, has her e-mailing five questions that were completely of her choice to answer as a follow-up to someone else having done the same with her.

In return for my participation in this meme, she is courageously volunteering herself to be tagged for the Six weird things about myself meme. And yes, the idea with today's meme is to also see whether anyone wants to volunteer to getting asked five questions by me -- and in this way, further continue the meme's progress -- in addition to finding out what my answers are to the questions that were asked of me (and which I actually had to spend quite a bit of time pondering since, as I told my questioner, I've never ever been asked four out of five of those before!)... ;)

In any event, and without further ado:-

1. What is your happiest childhood memory? (Or more than one if you'd like.)

I'm not sure I can pinpoint a single childhood memory as the happiest of the lot. However, I can recall many happy times spent in England exploring museums (yes, really!) in the company of my mother and being allowed by her to go on buying sprees in more than one bookstore there.

As I disclosed in an early post on this here blog: for a good part of my childhood, I used to regularly spend part of each year in England. However, what may not have been clear previously is that this involved my being taken out of the Malaysian schools I attended for weeks at a time. Alternatively put, my parents got me playing "hookey" for significant periods of each year!

As compensation, my mother would see to it that we did educational things while there -- like go visit museums and other places of cultural and/or historical interest (of which there are, to put it mildly, quite a few in England!). And lots of reading. Only, for the most part, she didn't dictate which museums and other places to visit or even what I would be reading.

Rather, I got to research, pick and plan stuff pretty much all by myself! And oh boy, did I get quite a bit of joy -- and, looking back, quite a bit of a practical and useful, even while also unorthodox, education -- from doing so! :b

2. What do you see yourself doing in 10 years? Are there any particular goals you'd like to accomplish in that time frame?

For the record, this is the only question of the quintet that I've been asked before by others. And, as I told Alejna, usually in job interviews and/or by individuals who were my bosses at the time of their asking this question!

Also for the record: My response these days -- one which can seem to freak people out -- is that I no longer try to look 10 years down the road and, instead, tend to only look at my life and related matters in, at most, six month increments!!

My reason for this is that once upon a time, my life path did seem like it could have been as predictable as that of a train's but, especially over the past 10 years or so, my life has taken such unexpected twists and turns -- much of which I truly feel were beyond my control -- that I no longer am inclined to try to predict nor seek to purposefully and single-mindedly dictate the course of my own long-term future.

Instead, I'm content to see what life brings and respond as well as react accordingly to the surprises along with more expected developments that it tends to turn up. This way, I feel that my life path is more flexible and open to interesting possibilities. And even while this way of living can bring with it its share of anxieties, I think it compensates by being more exciting as well as generally less disappointing.

3. If you had the power to bestow a gift upon a baby girl, such as those given by fairy godmothers in a fairy tale like Sleeping Beauty, what gift would you bestow? If you could bestow three such gifts, what would they be?

If I could bestow just one gift, it would be the ability to think for herself. And if I could bestow two others, it would be a good -- as in caring as well as physically healthy! -- heart and the ability to not take herself too seriously. This way, I hope, she'll grow up to be a wonderful individual who will do some good in the world, and without getting an over-inflated ego while doing so!

4. Let's go with the inanimate object route. If you were a box, what kind would you be? Describe yourself, your uses and your contents, if any.

"Boxes are highly variable receptacles." Thus began the Wikipedia's entry for "box". This fact notwithstanding, I have to admit that I've given scant thought to these inanimate objects and, especially, what of their kind I'd like to be!

After devoting some thought to the matter, however, I'm going ahead and concluding that I'd like to be a box that contains a present and which, when opened up by the recipient of the present, would be party to seeing her -- and I'm definitely seeing a female in this vision! -- face light up with happiness.

And no, my size won't matter or even my appearance (though, for some reason, I'm getting a distinct vision of myself as being rather plain and square in shape!). Rather, it's what inside that counts
-- ...and here I feel compelled to make clear that I most definitely am not the kind whose purpose is to house or transport jewellery or some designer dress or associated accessory! -- and the role that the box has in making someone happy even for a time... :)

5. I think the word "pants" is a funny word. Also "squid." I like to say "arugula." Do you have words (in English or other languages) that you like to say?

Hmmm...words that I find funny and like to say or just like to say? In view of the examples that were given, I'd say the former. Okay, then, about the only one that comes to mind fairly immediately is "walaubagaimanapun" (the multi-syllabic Bahasa Malaysia equivalent of the English "although") -- in part because although we were taught this word at school, very few people (beyond grammarians and government officials) really use it in real life!

(As an aside: I often find Bahasa Malaysia -- or, at least, its official version -- to be a way too long-winded language for real, practical and regular use. As an example, the English "please help me" (three syllables) would get rendered, if one stuck to the language's formal rules, etc., as sila berikan saya pertolongan (eleven syllables). So you tell me which phrase you'd be more likely to utter if you really were in serious trouble!!!)

As far as English words are concerned: Um...maybe just "squish"? On second thoughts, there's also "hippopotamous"; this not least because I was taught to pronounce it as "hip-po-po-tey-mous" in Malaysia, something which got my English friends laughing hysterically when they heard it, while to this day, I still find their pronounciation of the word as "hip-po-pot-te-mous" as not sounding quite "normal" to my Malaysian ears! ;D

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hong Kong streets renaissance

One reason why I love Hong Kong:
The high proportion -- and many types --
of public transport
on its streets
(By the way, the traffic is less dense than usual
in this photograph because it was taken on a weekend!)

Something else that I really like about Hong Kong:
the profusion of colorful street markets and
associated pedestrian-friendly streets
that are to be found there

As regular readers of this blog know full well, Hong Kong is a place I love. And while there is a part of me which wonders if one can truly say such a thing about a part of the world where one has yet to actually be a resident, another part of me feels certain that if one could, Hong Kong really would fit that bill for me.

This is not least because there really are so many things about the place that I like and admire. For example, and to reiterate once more, Hong Kong -- with such as its annual Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) and the excellent Hong Kong Film Archive that's open to the public throughout the year -- is "movie Mecca" for me.

At the same time, my love for things Hong Kong extends to what can appear to be the mundane: for instance, the very existence of its ultra-nifty Octopus Card, a great public transportation system, and the plentiful amount of street markets and other pedestrian-only or -friendly areas within that densely populated territory.

Except that, as a piece I only recently came across -- although it actually first appeared in cyberspace back in September of last year -- makes clear, it's taken quite a bit of thought, planning and implementation to allow the "Fragrant Harbour" to have the kind of exemplary public transportation and pedestrian-friendly set-up that it now does.

Even more surprisingly, its author was moved to note that as recently as "in 2001, there were few streets or districts that were comfortable to walk in or engage with despite being known as a bustling shopping city. [But i]n the intervening [five years or so] the city has undergone a major transformation led by none other than the city's Transport Department."

Consequently, "A city that once had almost no space for walking and where tourists, business travelers and residents dreaded its transportation system now has speedy and efficient mass transit and nice public spaces"; something which Learning from a Streets Renaissance in Hong Kong proceeded to show is really the case with wonderfully illustrative photographs along with well-reasoned points that I think many of you will find interesting reading. (Hence my deciding to try to draw the work to your attention in this post!)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Six weird things about myself (meme)

Earlier this week, I got tagged -- along with six other individuals she considers to be "strange and interesting people"! -- to reveal six weird things about myself by Bibliobibuli's Sharon Bakar.

According to the rules of the meme: People who are tagged should write a blog post of 6 weird things about them as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave a comment that says ‘you are tagged’ in their comments and tell them to read your blog.

So here goes (and please don't say that you've not been warned!):-

1. I've not worn a skirt in at least five years, and a dress in eleven and a half years.

Even as a child, I didn't care much for wearing skirts and dresses. And this before one fateful incident which saw my dress get caught on one of the spikes of the then spiked front gate of my family residence as I attempted to climb over it, with the result that I was left dangling fearfully in mid air for the better part of a few long minutes!

Then, much later, when I was a student at Beloit College, I used to get annoyed by it being so that every time I put on a skirt, I would get people asking me whether I was going out on a date that evening (and if so, with whom)! So much so that it gradually was the case that I only ever wore skirts on laundry day, when I had run out of clean pairs of trousers and shorts to wear...but since I've not had days in which I've run out of trousers and shorts to wear in years... ;)

2. I organized Communal Screams at my college.

At boarding school in England, a friend took me to an isolated end of the school grounds one day and introduced me to the wonders of destressing by screaming. In my first semester at college in Wisconsin, I decided to take the screaming to a new level by having a whole host of others scream with me at the same time for a fixed period. After getting the permission from the college authorities to organize such an event at midnight on the eve of Finals Week, the Beloit College Communal Scream was born.

Imagine, if you will, what seemed like a whole college screaming in unison for five minutes at a fixed time and place. And individuals being inspired to add to the experience by doing such as recording their screams in advance on tape and then playing the tape at full blast over their hi-fi stereo's speakers or augmenting the act of screaming by scattering their term papers from the windows of their dorm rooms...

It may all have seemed like bedlam to those not in the know. Except that it actually was organized bedlam. So organized, in fact, that before too long, the college actually took to funding the Communal Scream (and paying for the printing of the posters and for the artist who designed the posters)! As an American liberal arts college student -- like I was at the time -- might say, "how seriously cool was that?!" ;D

3. I used to think that I wanted to have my ashes scattered at Highbury after I died.

For those who don't know, Highbury = Highbury Stadium = the home of Arsenal Football Club (the English association football club and team I've supported since 1978) until the Gunners moved in the summer of 2006 to the far more modern plus larger capacity Ashburton Grove (AKA Emirates Stadium). And I used to fantasize that if my ashes were scattered there after I died, my ghost could maybe help Arsenal by doing such as trip up opponents and help block those of their shots that otherwise might have been goal-bound!

However, Highbury is now in the process of being converted into luxury apartments and penthouses and, as yet, I don't feel even half as much love for Arsenal's new home as I did for its old one. Perhaps, in time, I will come to yearn to have my ashes scattered over at the Emirates Stadium. But I think this development will need to involve at least as many visits there as the number of pilgrimages that took me to Highbury. Therefore, in the meantime, I'm open to suggestions as to alternative places to have my ashes scattered after my death! ;S

4. I ate 96 chapatis in three and half weeks in Kenya.

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I went to Kenya in the summer 1986 at the invitation of a friend and stayed with her family for the bulk of my visit there. But what I haven't written about until now is how much I loved my Kenyan Indian friend's mother's cooking. And in particular, how much I loved her chapatis.

So much did I love those home-made flat breads that every meal that we ate in my friend's Nairobi home, be it breakfast, lunch, tea or dinner, I would choose the chapati option over, say, rice or Western style bread. Before too long, this came to be noticed by my friend's mother and the rest of her family, and they decided it would be fun to count the number of chapatis I ate during my stay in Kenya.

Later on, as the end of my visit neared, that motherly cooking genius proceeded to announce that I wouldn't be allowed to leave Kenya until I had eaten 100 of her chapatis! Alas, despite my valiant efforts, I never did eat 100 of her chapatis -- at least, not on that particular visit. Still, the woman did generously decide to allow me to head home without having achieved that feat. Though not before enquiring only half in jest, as I got ready to head to the airport on the final day of my visit: "Are you sure you don't want me to pack four chapatis for you to eat on the plane?" ;D

5. I was bitten by tsetse flies in Tanzania.

As also has been mentioned previously, I spent two years of my life in Tanzania (Kenya's southern neighbor). Towards the end of my stay in East Africa, I decided to treat myself by going on a wildlife safari that took in visits to the ecologically diverse Lake Manyara National Park, the truly vast and animal-filled Serengeti National Park, the seriously awesome Ngorongoro Crater and surrounding Conservation Area, and elephant-rich Tarangire National Park.

For the most part, this wildlife safari was a wonderful experience. However, even in this modern day and age, this kind of experience is not without its problems and perils. For example, at one point, one of our Land Rover's tyres developed a puncture and, since an unpunctured spare tyre couldn't be found for miles, the car had to limp along very slowly for a few hours.

Then there were the tsetse flies which dogged us for much of our stay in Tarangire. And, I found, were well capable of biting through layers of clothing, socks and safari leather boots! While these insects' bites were painful and thus bad enough, what worried me more was that they are known carriers of the incurable disease popularly known as sleeping sickness. Fortunately, however, it does look like the tsetse flies that bit me weren't carriers of that fearsome disease... ;S

6. I have lots of dreams in which I'm doing things like reading, writing, watching movies and -- these days -- blogging.

In conversations with various friends, I've been told that they don't dream much. Or, at least, don't normally remember their dreams. I, on the other hand, feel like hardly a night goes by without my having at least one dream.

Something else in which I differ from many of my friends is that they tend to have -- or, at least, only remember having -- dreams which tend to be really unusual. Meanwhile, I seem to be stuck with having generally mundane dreams. Ones in which I do a lot of what I do in real life -- e.g., read, write, watch movies and, increasingly, blog and check my blog's site meter! I wonder: Is this because I don't have much of an imagination; or is it maybe a sign that I'm generally happier with my life than most? ;b

In any event, here's going ahead and tagging the individuals behind the following blogs* and requesting that they divulge six weird things about themselves on their blogs:-

Falling Stones are Not Heavy
Morsels of Peach Souffle
The Places You Will Go
Cultural Snow

Now off I go, as the meme's rules direct, to leave "you are tagged" comments over at their blogs! :)

* Addendum: As per the rules of the meme, this group originally was six in number but two individuals have asked to be "let off" having to write six weird things about themselves. However, if there are any volunteers to replace them from among this blog's readers who have their own blogs, please let me know and I'll happily add two of you to this list!

** 26th April update: The game and interesting individual behind Collecting Tokens has volunteered to be included on my list of "taggees" for this meme. Here's looking forward to seeing her "weird" revelations over on her blog at some point in the near future! :)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Steps (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

As with my previous week's Photo Hunt entry, I can't resist putting up two photos rather than just a solitary one. This time around though, only the first image directly relates to the week's chosen theme: i.e., "Steps". However, if you continue your reading, you'll understand why I figured that it also would be good to include the second photograph into the bargain.

Firstly, here's identifying the steps in the first picture as but a few of the many stone steps which lead up and down leafy Guia Hill. Though it stands at just 94 meters above sea level, this natural point is the highest in Macau (once a Portuguese enclave but, since 1999, a Special Administrative Republic of the People's Republic of China).

Atop Guia Hill sits the 17th century Guia Fortress complex which includes a picturesque lighthouse that was the first modern installation of its kind on the Chinese coast. With much of it being open to the public, this historic monument is one of Macau's major tourist attractions.

On the other hand, the local folks appear to be much more attracted to the jogging tracks and other exercise venues and set-ups on Guia Hill; and I can well imagine that many of them do regularly incorporate a trek up the stone steps in my first photo as part of their "keep fit" regimes.

For those who are less inclined to exert themselves in this manner, however, there's the Guia Cable Car (see the second photograph above) which offers a very short (i.e., 80 seconds!) but scenic ride up to a stop close to the top of the hill. And yes, if you're wondering, on my visit to this locale, I elected to go for the compromise plus medium exertion option of taking the cable car up and then walking down Guia Hill.... ;b

Friday, April 20, 2007

Flowers in the garden (Photo-essay)

"Flowers do intoxicate me." So admitted
Vita Sackville-West (1892- 1962). And another lover of flowers in Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is on record on the same page of collected quotes about flowers as owning that "A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books" while Emma Goldman (1869-1940) is quoted as admitting that "I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck."

For my part though, the truth of the matter is that I'm not someone who generally gets all that excited by the sight -- and/or scent -- of flowers. So I'd say that it has to take something pretty special for me to sit up and thoroughly appreciate their very existence.

About a month ago, such a thing happened. More specifically, one morning, I noticed a profusion of bees busily buzzing around near the window closest to my desk. Upon looking out of said window, I discovered that the bees were being attracted to the bright flowers which seemed to have bloomed virtually overnight on the tree that's situated closest to the window.

Later, as I walked around my father's garden, I realized that there were more flowers in it than is usual. In retrospect, I realize that the recent dry season over here in Penang appeared to have triggered the equatorial climate's equivalent of spring with regards to many of the plants. And sure enough, these days, in the wake of the coming of a new wet season, there sadly aren't so many examples of flora in view anymore. Sad because for a time, even I got to be impressed by the beauty of flowers and the joy the sight of these gifts of nature can bring... ;S

The fluffy bee magnets that got me
looking out of my window

Contrast how they look when not in bloom

A photograph which captures
the different blooming stages
of the flowering plant
whose scientific name is
Ixora sunkist

A less mandala-like view of a more colorful lotus flower
than in the photograph decorating yesterday's post

"To create a little flower is the labor of ages."
-- William Blake (1757-1827)

"The flower is the poetry of reproduction.
It is an example of the eternal seductiveness of life."
-- Jean Giraudoux (1882-1944)

"People from a planet without flowers
would think we must be mad with joy the whole time
to have such things about us."

-- Iris Murdoch (1919-1999)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Teaser for tomorrow's photo-essay

A lotus flower in full bloom

It'll only be a short post this evening as I'm feeling really tired after having gone jogging earlier today. Indeed, I'm basically just taking the opportunity here to put up an especially nice photograph that I recently took as well as to tell those who enjoyed viewing the Beauty in nature photo-essay which I put up on this blog -- how time flies! -- more than a month ago now that they should make sure to come back for more tomorrow... :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gender disparities (or despairities?)

Today's post seeks to draw attention to some interesting bits in two written works I read today: one of which is the newly re-issued Adibah Amin treasure that is As I Was Passing (written using the pseudonym Sri Delima (trans., "the glow of a ruby")); the other of which is an issue of a magazine that I picked up a couple of weeks back in Hong Kong but only really looked at this evening; both of which provide illustration the divergent ways in which men and women are apt to view matters.

First, while looking through the issue of Australia's The Bulletin whose main feature looked at Why more of us are choosing to live alone, the following observation leapt out at me from the page that it was on:-

A survey of single or divorced people showed that 39% of women over 50 planned on staying single forever, with only 36% interested in a relationship. [But in stark contrast, o]nly 2% of men of the same age wanted to remain single and 90% said they planned to seek a new partner.

(To read more, check out Bad cohabits by Katherine Fleming. Also, go here for the main article in the magazine -- one entitled The power of one -- on the sea-change in favor of singledom over in Australia.)

Then, should one decide to look for some possible reasons why women -- especially of an older generation -- may decide that they would rather stay single, one really could do far worse then to turn to Adibah Amin's collection of amusing newspaper column pieces which were originally written in the 1970s for Malaysia's New Straits Times newspaper.

From a piece entitled Tender Tussle:-

A man, they say, is Nature's eternal challenge to womankind. Just as she feels she is beginning to understand him, he changes completely and eludes her grasp. He is born contrary. Chase him, and he runs for his life. Give him up for lost, and he comes after you, all intense and wild-eyed. He does whatever he likes, goes wherever he pleases, and you must not question him. But try doing one-tenth of what he does and he flies into a jealous rage.

A man is always right. The more wrong he is, the more important it is for you to say that he is right. He must always feel he is the boss. The slightest argument from you and he suspects you are trying to "wear the trousers" -- and he becomes really impossible...

A man spends his time working, chasing a hobby, gallivanting with his cronies or staring at the television. He ignores you completely -- then expects you to light up like a beacon the moment he looks at you. He expects you to be many things in one -- wife, sweetheart, friend, counsellor, mother, sister, secretary -- and to switch from one role to another according to his moods...[!]

And this from a piece entitled The Romance Killers:-

...and what about the metamorphosis of hero into husband? When a man courts you, he is all masculine charm and gallantry. His looks are smashing, his manners dashing. If he does not jump to open car doors for you, this is only because it is not the Malaysian style. He does just about everything else for you and spends the time in between services whispering sweet nothings in your ear.

Comes the happily-ever-after you have been dreaming of and what do you get? Your Prince has turned into the Frog, the Beast, the Orang-Utan, the Fire-Breathing Monster of your favourite fairy or folktale.

He hogs the bed, the blankets, the bathroom, the newspapers. He takes the caps off bottles and tubes and never puts them back. He leaves a trail of clothes and miscellaneous belongings wherever he goes, then yells at you when he cannot find them. His den is sacrosanct, his rusty tool kit and littered desk not to be touched or even looked at, but he blithely pinches your precious nail to varnish to paint some old junk of his...[!!!]

Of course, this being dear ol' Adibah, she does go on to declare an amiable pax rather than continue to add fuel to the gender wars. Consequently, in another piece -- this one entitled Mind the Snails, Romeo ;D -- she decides to contrarily ask "Could it be that men find us [women] most lovable when we are least perfect?"

Though not before admitting to having done such as naughtily asked around, collected and proceeded to share with her readers quite a number of "odd" marriage proposals (made, of course, by men to their lady loves -- and, therefore, furnishable as further evidence of the peculiarness of men); one choice one of which goes as follows:-

"My mother likes you very much." [says the young swain]

"Really?" [asks the female half of the pair having the conversation]

"My younger brother thinks you are very pretty."

"How sweet of him."

"In fact, my whole family would love to have you as an in-law."

Electric silence.

"Would you? Be their in-law, I mean?"

!!!!!! :DDDDD

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Some belated Hong Kong Film Awards thoughts

One of the attractions to be found at Hong Kong's
Avenue of the Stars is a large size replica of
the trophies given out
at the Hong Kong Film Awards

Two evenings ago, this year's Hong Kong Film Awards were presented at a ceremony held at the impressive multipurpose performance facility that is the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

In all honesty, I hadn't thought to write about this awards presentation on this blog as there's been extensive coverage of it by the likes of internet luminary Sanney Leung over at his The House Where Words Gather along with professional news media representatives like Hong Kong's The Standard and The Hollywood Reporter.

But since at least one reader expressed an interest in reading my thoughts over on a recent post's Comments section, here's deciding that maybe -- and even some two days on -- they're worth posting on my blog after all! So here goes, and by doing such as taking a stylistic cue from the reader cum blogger in question to boot (albeit differentiating myself somewhat by not talking about the presentation ceremony itself, just the winners and a few other nominees)... ;b

Best Picture: After This Our Exile

As those of you who have been reading my reports of my 2007 HKIFF viewing experiences (including that which specifically discussed After This Our Exile) should know, the 2006 Patrick Tam Ka-Ming film was one of the highlights of the film festival for me. For all this though, the truth of the matter is that it wouldn't get my vote for best Hong Kong movie of last year; and, indeed, would only make it about halfway up the top ten 2006 Hong Kong movies list I made prior to viewing it.

Rather, my Best Picture vote would have gone to Johnnie To's Exiled. And I suspect that that was the case with a few of those eligible to cast Hong Kong Film Awards votes. However, what went against this film was that it probably split the votes in favor of Johnnie To with the other work by that auteur that was running (i.e., Election 2). Also, I could see how some individuals -- even in a place like Hong Kong -- would have gone for respectability and opted for an arthouse drama over an action-packed genre offering... :S

Best Director: Patrick Tam Ka-Ming (After This Our Exile)

I'm not surprised that Patrick Tam won in this category. However, my sense is that this was a sentimental win more than an entirely deserved one; one which honored a respected film veteran, a pioneer member of the much vaunted Hong Kong New Wave and one who, to boot, was effectively returning from our exile in Malaysia to direct his first film since 1989 more for his body of work rather than on the merits of just his latest offering per se.

And yes, my vote in this category would have gone for Johnnie To -- who, on top of everything else, happened to have helmed not one but two truly superb films over the course of a single calendar year.

Best Actor: Lau Ching Wan (My Name is Fame)

I thought Aaron Kwok was going to win this. But boy, am I glad he didn't. Not because I dislike Aaron Kwok. And, in fact, on the basis of quality performances like that which he's given in Throwdown as well as After This Our Exile, I'm actually re-considering my general policy to avoid any movie in which Aaron Kwok appears.

But, well, I've been waiting for years for Lau Ching Wan to win a Hong Kong Film Award! As more than one person has observed, it really was seventh time lucky for this seven time HKFA Best Actor nominee. Funnily enough, just when it looked like his time had come and gone (courtesy of his having appeared in recent years in a bunch of so-so to terrible comedies), up he popped -- just like the character he played in My Name is Fame! -- into the limelight and awards equation once more! :)

Best Actress: Gong Li (Curse of the Golden Flower)

Looking at the Best Actress nominees, I'd have voted for Gong Li too. However, this is not to praise her sky high but, rather, to indict the Hong Kong film industry for not having offered up five truly worthy Best Actress nominees nor all that many meaty roles for females in 2006.

Put another way: It seems that we're once again in a Hong Kong cinema cycle which favors males over females. And no, it most certainly doesn't help that many of the leading actress roles in Hong Kong movies appear to be going to not only actresses who are decades younger than their male equivalents but actresses who are from Mainland China -- the most recent crop of whom often make one or two films, than go away and/or back to whence they came (cf. Ai Jing) -- rather than Hong Kong itself. :(

Best Supporting Actor: Gouw Ian Iskandar (After This Our Exile)

Considering that this young fellow was on the screen far more than the credited lead actress of the cinematic offering he appeared in, his role seemed more that of co-star than supporting actor. Add to this fact that After This Our Exile was his first film, I'd say that he performed more than creditably. And so much so that he did deserve to beat even polished veterans like Simon Yam to this year's Best Supporting Actor prize.

Best Supporting Actress: Zhou Xun (The Banquet)

I'm not going to comment on Zhou Xun's performance since I didn't see The Banquet. Instead, I'd just like to take the opportunity to suggest here that it speaks volumes that a work that was Hong Kong's official foreign language film Oscar nominee -- but which many people look upon as far more of a Mainland Chinese movie -- only garnered a solitary Hong Kong Film Award, and just in this category too!

Best Screenplay: Patrick Tam Ka-Ming & Tian Koi-Leong (After This Our Exile)

If nothing else, I'd have expected individuals associated with After This Our Exile to triumph in this category. At the same time though, I'd also like to spare a thought for Happy Birthday's scriptwriting trio of Sylvia Chang, Matthias Woo and Theresa Tang since in another year, they could have been winners at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

Best New Performer: Gouw Ian Iskandar (After This Our Exile)

The only person I could have seen seriously challenging Gouw Ian Iskandar for this award was My Name is Fame's Huo Siyan. I get the feeling though that it was too much to ask for this Lawrence Ah Mon directorial effort which apparently didn't get too much critical respect in Hong Kong itself to get honored with more than one award.

Still, at least the Hong Kong Film Awards' voters didn't stoop so low as to award this prize to Rob-b-Hood's Matthew Medvedev! And lest anyone try to accuse me of racism, it's not that he's white -- for goodness sake -- but, rather, because he was just a baby when he "gave" his HKFA-nominated performance!!!!!! ;(

Best Cinematography: Andrew Lau Wai-Keung & Lai Yiu-Fai (Confession of Pain)

The nominees list for this award was very impressive indeed and everyone of them put in sterling work which really helped to make the films they worked on look good. Still, the winners in this category did stand out; and not least because visuals were about the only thing that Confession of Pain had going for it!

On a lighter note: I can't ever see the name of Lai Yiu-Fai without laughing and remembering that he and another cinematographer, Ho Po-Wing, ended up giving their names to the main characters of Wong Kar Wai's Happy Together. How did this happen? Well, according to the story I heard, some days into the filming of that offering, it belatedly dawned on its director cum scriptwriter that he hadn't given any names to its two main characters. So, he looked around, saw the two men who were Christopher Doyle's assistant cameramen on that film and the rest, as they say, is film history! ;b

Best Film Editing: Eric Kong Chi-Leung (A Battle of Wits)

I can't believe that Patrick Tam -- who may actually be better known and valued by his contemporaries for his editing rather than directing skills -- didn't win this award! And especially when this category's awardee worked on a film which I thought would have benefited from better as well as greater editing!! :S

Best Art Direction: Huo Tingxiao (Curse of the Golden Flower)

Absolutely no contest here. And if anyone disagrees, I'd wager that it's because they've not seen the eye-popping visual extravaganza that is Curse of the Golden Flower.

Best Costume & Make-Up Design: Yee Chung Man (Curse of the Golden Flower)

See the comments that I wrote for the Best Art Direction category and apply them here.

Best Action Choreography: Yuen Woo-Ping (Fearless)

My sentimental favorite is Ching Siu Tung -- whose more graceful wire-work style I prefer to the winner's more masculine way-- but, really, it was a well-deserved win this year for Master Yuen Woo-Ping as he served up the kind of action choreography in Fearless that helped Jet Li look the best he has in years.

Best Original Film Score: Peter Kam Pui-Tat (Isabella)

I didn't have any strong opinion here. Frankly, there weren't any film scores that struck me as particularly great last year.

Best Original Film Song: The Chrysanthemum Terrace (Curse of the Golden Flower; sung by Jay Chou)

...In contrast, I so loved this Jay Chou song that immediately after coming out of a screening of Curse of the Golden Flower, I walked into a music store to ask them whether I could purchase the film's Original Soundtrack CD on the basis of this one piece of music alone!

Best Sound Design: Nakom Kositpaisa (Re-cycle)

Like with Best Original Film Score, nothing and no one particularly stood out here for me to have a strong opinion, be it negative or positive.

Best Visual Effects: Ng Yuen-Fai, Chas Chau Chi-Sing, Emil Yee Kwok-Leung & Alex Lim Hung-Fung (Re-cycle)

This award, I feel, was well deserved for its visual effects were the best thing about Re-cycle by a very long chalk indeed. Still it saddens me somewhat that at the end of the day, a generally mediocre work like Re-cycle has one more Hong Kong Film Award to its name than My Name is Fame. :S

Best Asian Film: Riding Along for Thousands of Miles (Mainland China)

Just a few weeks ago, Hong Kong played host -- and with much fanfare too -- to the first Asian Film Awards. So it seems rather strange that the Asian film that was the most honored at that awards ceremony -- i.e., The Host (which emerged with four prizes, including for Best Film) -- lost out at the Hong Kong Film Awards to another work!

But maybe the HKFA voters felt sorry or guilty for pretty much shutting out Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower in the main HKFA categories; and consequently decided to give him a consolation prize of sorts by naming another of his directorial efforts -- one which didn't make the Best Film nominees shortlist for the Asian Film Awards! -- as the Best Asian Film at this event!!

Best New Director: Daniel Wu (The Heavenly Kings)

Well-deserved and it'd be a shame if this awards recipient decides to forego directing any more films in order to concentrate on his acting career.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Sir Run Run Shaw

This 100-year-old man is responsible for having produced hundreds of movies, many of which are very watchable a number of decades after they were first released. Well done and congratulations, sir! :)

Professional Spirit Award: Man Yuen-Ling

I have to confess to knowing next to nothing about Man Yuen-Ling but ain't it cool that the Hong Kong Film Awards actually doles out something called a Professional Spirit Award?! :b

Last but not least: To all those who've read this far, I thank you and hope that you enjoyed at least some parts of this -- I'm belatedly realizing -- super lengthy blog post! :)