Thursday, July 28, 2005

Announcement

Finally, KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic is podcasting!

Us Kids Know

Today Serene and I walked into a record store for the first time in a long, long while. I meant to get a turntable last weekend so that I can at least get a couple of albums via vinyl and save a couple of bucks. (Here in Ann Arbor, vinyls are cheaper than CDs. Go figure. Everywhere else in the world it's the other way around) Anyway, we were browsing around in Schoolkids Records in Exile on State Street and the temptation was just too much. There were so many items on my "to-get" list that I literally had to rationalize and prioritize what I wanted. Eversince I sold all my records at home, I have decidedly changed my music shopping ways and have a NEED TO BUY criteria only. And so I decided to get the band that's got my goat ever since I first heard them- The Arcade Fire. I don't know what it is but this band always gets my brain's and body's attention everytime their music comes on. And today I decided to buy their self-titled debut EP. Though a much simpler effort than the towering and raucous 'Funeral', I can certainly see where Arcade Fire's roots lie ... that of youthful rebellion. I don't know, I may be getting old, but the lyrics of 'No cars go' still hit me somewhere between my rounding gut and my last rib ....

No Cars Go

Planes! Ships! Hey!
no Cars Go! Hey!
No Cars Go!
Where We know!
Spaceships! Subs! Hey!
Us Kids Know! Hey!
No Cars Go!
Where We know!
Between the click of the light and the start of the dream!



//jude//

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Ch#$b*@ is the new hip

All I ever wanted when I was in primary school was for my name to be called every Monday morning at assembly to go on stage to receive a Speak Good English badge. The Speak Good English campaign was initiated throughout schools in the '80s as part of the government's endeavor to wipe out the use of vernacular dialects and encourage the use of Standard English.

Twenty years later, one blog and one overnight sensation of a blogger comes along and pulls off a coup- not only is the oft-considered crass-and-coarse Hokkien suddenly a celebratory instrument of opinion, he has unwittingly (or not) propelled a Hokkien swear word to celebrity status, making it officially the first curse phrase to appear in our national press.



For an extended guide on the origins and use of this word, click here.

We can't help it- we're devoted readers... Rockson, you rock!

To the ecstasy of love...

[click for book recommendation]

Dance Me to the End of Love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove

Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of

Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We're both of us beneath our love, we're both of us above

Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn

Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I'm gathered safely in
Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove

Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

-Madeleine Peyroux (lyrics originally by Leonard Cohen)

Monday, July 25, 2005

Finished product

Ta-da! This is how the table looks like re-assembled. You can't really see the sheen from the photo but it does look a lot better than it did 11 hours ago. We still can't put stuff on it, but at least it's in the house and blending in nice with the rest of the furniture.

Home Improvement

To describe it best, today was one extended Tim-Allen-meets-Martha Stewart moment. After sleeping in till noon, indulgently reading every section of the NYT, and a light lunch of gyoza with Chinese veggies, Jude and I jumped straight into the chores we've been putting off for the longest time with every conceivable excuse (mid-terms, friend visiting, 4th of July, bad weather, sloth...).

First I re-potted all my indoor plants which I suspect have been struggling these last couple of months; especially my little roses which bloomed so prettily in spring, but look more like wannabe bonsais these day (a.k.a. bare and dry, and without the elegant postures no less).



We also bought some new plants for the little plot we have in front and at the back of the house. Jude insisted on a yew bush (get it? get it?) so we got a bobbink yew which is supposed to be really hardy in the winter. Flowers like lilies and sunflowers would look really nice but come October, my yard will be the graveyard of flowers- it would have been too depressing. We figure shrubs and bushes are a more sensible choice in the long run and might be more interesting in case we decide to add other plants around them. The yew looks a little puny now but it grows pretty fast so it should look good by the time my birthday comes round when my parents and sisters come visit! :)



For the backyard, we chose two young lavender plants. I love the smell of lavender- so calming. Lavender and wildflower honey are the two smells/ tastes which remind me most of Australia and they bring back really wonderful memories so I'm glad we got them. The lavender plants are a tad small right now but they smell gorgeous already. Can't wait till they get bigger. Imagine the fragrance wafting through the house...



Our biggest project was re-staining a table our friends Dave & Jen gave us. After the couch, this is out favorite piece of furniture. It looks more like a handyman's work table (which is why we love it), and comes with two benches. It's was handmade and the varnish was peeling off. We had to painstakingly strip and then re-stain it. We wanted to make sure the table's really protected so ended up using a resin/ epoxy mix to coat it. Man it was hard work! Thank god the table top was removable from the legs so we could work outside. First the stripping took at least two hours, and then the varnishing another hour. Now we have to wait seven hours before we can move it, and to dry completely, it's another seventy-two hours! In fact, I'm writing this as I'm sitting on my front steps watching the varnish dry (yes, gives new meaning to the term "watching paint dry"...) We're afraid the neighbors' kids might come by and touch it- not so much that they might spoil the stain, but that they might get epoxy on their hands. It's toxic (smells it too...).



It's now 7.57 pm, my clothes are so dirty they would walk to the washer themselves if they could (not my line- adapted from my beloved best friend...), I'm more thirsty than hungry, I'm so pooped I can barely haul myself upstairs to shower, and we have three hours before we can move the table.

No wonder Tim and Martha get paid to do what they do...

Friday, July 22, 2005

Books

The paradox of having been an English major (for me at least), is that one ends up reading a whole lot of books because you have to, and not enough of those you want to. Being a product of the Singapore education system, I read my assigned readings slavishly and thoroughly, forsaking the allure of more attractive alternatives in the name of The Exam. I really don't think my life would have been very different had I not read Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (God bless the Marlon Brando of American literature, but bull-fighting and ennui just do not figure together in my literary psyche), or Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds. I constantly appall myself (and am sure outrage the literary snobs of the world) that I've not read Ulysees (although I did read Portrait of a Young Man as an Artist), I don't remember enough of Moby Dick to claim to have read it (*gasp*), and no, I haven't read (nor do I want to) Julius Caesar (double *gasp*). I did go through the mandatory Sylvia Plath Ariel/ Bell Jar phase that descends upon all literary-leaning young women who yearn to be the melancholic beauty that was she. I devised a whole theory about the difference between male and female suicide just from reading The Bell Jar. For women, it's all about the beautiful death- nothing must happen to your face. That's why women drown, slit their wrists, and stuff their heads in ovens. Men shoot themselves, jump off buildings, and stand in front of moving vehicles. Not pretty. Women are from Venus, and men from Mars.

Anyways, this wasn't meant to be a post about killing myself. I wanted to talk about books. So ironically, I only managed to start reading for leisure when I started teaching, and now during summer and Christmas breaks. I like it alot better this way actually- less pressure to deconstruct and analyze, and more about enjoying the prose and poetry for itself. Just finished The Time Traveler's Wife (see sidebar) and it was wonderful. I might just have to read the last twenty pages again since things were basically a blur of tears between pg. 517 and pg. 537. The fact that it was 5.07 in the morning when I was done might partially explain the haze I was in (you try putting it down after pg. 452...). At 5.10, I recovered suitably from the post-narrative stupor, washed my face, went downstairs, gave Jude a hug (who was still slaving away for his statistics finals tommorrow) and asked him never to leave me. That's what the book does.

Books like these make me wish I were a writer. I guess that's the measure of a good book for me, books that make me fall in love with reading and writing, and thinking about reading and writing all over again. I've read many books in my lifetime, and I've loved many of them; but only a handful fall in this category. Few of the ones I read in university actually come to mind (largely because I had to analyze them to death, and was completely numb to them afterwards- oh the irony...)- ok, there was Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (my all time favorite Shakespeare play- not a conventional choice I know, but not enough people have read it nor know it for this brilliant little play to be conventionally appreciated see...), The Four Quartets, Rushdie's Shame, Middlemarch maybe. But the first time I was literally floored by a book that wasn't on a reading list was Dec 2000 when I read A.S. Byatt's Possession. I refused to believe it was over after the last page. It left me breathless. It's a hefty book and slow-going for the first couple of hundred pages (I know people who are at the same page they were two years ago...), but it rewards you handsomely and lovingly if you persevere and invest yourself in it. It remains remarkable to me how Byatt juggles the multiple narrative and stylistic voices, the layering of time periods, the loving, hating, yearning, coveting characters of such sublime depth you think they would die from feeling and being so much. This book reached into my guts and touched my soul.

possess, v
a. Of a person or body of persons: To hold, occupy (a place or territory); to reside or be stationed in; to inhabit (with or without ownership)
b. To take up the attention or thoughts of; to occupy, engross.
c. To hold as property; to have belonging to one, as wealth or material objects; to own.
d. To have possession of, as distinct from ownership.
e. With with: To cause to be possessed by (a feeling, idea, or the like; to imbue, inspire, permeate, affect strongly or permanently with; to cause to feel or entertain.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

For God's gift...

What does this look like to you?
A mark so fine, you barely see.
You have one just like it, too
A twisting vine,
A mark so fine;
Cause I love you with all I am
And you love me because you are
As fearless as a twisting vine,
A mark so fine
But still a scar

Fear plays dumb then eats the soul
Like a vagabond with a fishing pole
He whistles but he cannot sing,
Its an awful tune
But very soon
I find that I am whistling, too
And your window is like a star
That I sit beneath like a vagabond
Who wears his fear
Just like a scar

The blade of our outrageous fortune
Like a parade, it cuts a path,
Light shows on our foolish way
And darkness on
Our aftermath;
If I love you to save myself
And you love me because we are
So fool to think that our parade
Could leave a path
But not a scar

And I love you with all I am
And you love me with what you are
As pretty as a twisting vine,
A mark so fine

But still a scar

- Joe Henry, "Scar"

Monday, July 18, 2005

A little something about bands

So I'm writing this post partially at the request of my 12-year old sister who feels very resolutely that the world needs to be informed of her latest (and for all intents and purposes, her most) prized possession: a piece of towel. BUT, it is no ordinary piece of towel, it is a fraction of THE towel (which was lovingly cut into two pieces, one for her, one for her friend) used by Good Charlotte when they performed in Singapore last Tuesday. This towel, in other words, contains DNA residue of all the band members (it was used to wipe their profusely exuberant beads of sweat as they performed their little wannabe-post-punk-Green-Day-genuflecting hearts out to a stadium of teenagers whose only conception of pioneering punk music IS Green Day, and who have probably never heard of The Sex Pistols or Iggy Pop...); but more importantly for my sister, it has touched the hands of the boy she is determined to commit her life and soul to- Billy Martin. She:
1) only touches the towel with the tip of her fingers in case her DNA contaminates what has been left on the fabric;
2) will never wash that piece of thing; and
3) is going to seal it in a vacuum sealed bag for all eternity, to be taken out only to remind herself of her undying devotion to the band, and to Billy.

Her euphoria over that piece of cloth was so torrential I could barely contain my laughter (pray tell, how else would one respond to a screaming teenager whose highlight of her year is a disgusting piece of cotton); besides, her utter disregard for the fact that the towel not only contains millions of bateria and germs, but that they have multiplied exponentially since Tuesday, and will only continue to fester in her sealed bag is so extraordinary, it's sweet...

I just hope that bag never breaks...

Speaking of bands, on a related note, Jude and I spent the day in Detroit for The Concert of Colors, a concert/ fair to celebrate diversity and multiculturalism in Detroit. The highlight of the event was Ozomatli, an Afro-Latin hip-hop band from L.A. whose members challenge musical racial steroetypes in the strangest ways: sure they've got two black rappers, but they also have a white DJ, a Chinese bongo player, and a Latino clarinet player. Their music also has Indian and Arabic influences which is both interesting and exciting for a hip-hop band. They were SO good, it's not even funny. The music was awesome, the performacne electrifying, and the best thing is, they had a blast of a time performing. Those guys had fun, and the audience knew it. It was infectious! Jude and I were dancing right through the set (and those closest and dearest to us know this, we don't dance... That's how fabulous they were.) At one point, they got all the children onto the stage to play and groove- dynamite! And they even took the performance into the audience and out into the fair grounds- talk about participatory performance! They really got the crowd moving and jivving, and whipped everyone into a celebratory frenzy- I hadn't had so much musical fun since my momentous karaoke expedition with my girlfriends when I was home.

Good fun, good fun :)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Thank you, David!

Look what one of our former students got for us (who waited in line for a grand total of ten hours no less...) when Neil Gaiman visited Singapore two weeks ago!!





Between the two of us, I think Jude and I have all of Gaiman's Sandman comics. My favorite are his Shakespeare ones where Gaiman imagines that the Bard wrote his plays as part of a bargain with and finally a gift to Dream, starting with A Midsummer Night's Dream, and ending with The Tempest. It's a beautifully conceived narrative arc, making me wish I brought all my Sandman books here with me...

Thank you very very much, David- it was a wonderful surprise! :)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Candy freak

There is nothing not to like about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
1) It's a movie about candy,
2) It's based on a book by Roald Dahl (I much prefer George's Marvellous Medicine though),
3) It stars Johnny Depp (greasy in 21 Jump Street, perfect in Edward Scissorhands, and dreamy in Benny and Joon)
4) There's Freddie Highmore (a boy who makes my uterus skip a beat like it hasn't since the little kid in Stepmom. Imagine a son with a crisp British accent going, "Mommy, could I have a spot of milk please if it's not too much of a bother..."), and
5) It's directed by Tim Burton.
Enough said.

One of my favorite film books is Burton on Burton, part of a Faber and Faber series featuring directors writing about their own films.

[click to read description of book and Foreword by Johnny Depp]

In the book, Burton talks about growing up in Burbank, California, in a suburb much like the one he recreated in Edward Scissorhands, and how his peculiar attraction and inclination toward the morbid and perverse (see one of the best books ever, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy) was actually the product of growing up in just such an environment. It was a fascinating dive into the man's mind and until today, Burton remains one of my favorite directors (given a few aberrations: Planet of the Apes was incomprehensible, and no matter how hard you try to convince me otherwise, I will never allow my children to watch Pee Wee Herman). I love the way he gives free reign to his subversive imagination, and how he can conceive of art, beauty and wonder in what others think of as dark, bitter and strange. Oh, and of course, he has the most wonderfully wicked sense of humor- anyone watched Mars Attack? OK, I have to admit, that one's an acquired taste...

And I can't wait for Corpse Bride.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

THE love story

Looks like the blog's taking on a theme this week- love, heartache, and all the things to do with people coming together, or not. Just watched Before Sunrise and Before Sunset back to back, and it was lovely. Just lovely. They were perfect love stories (or a perfect love story) full of moments of repressed longing, regret and intimacy. I love the fact that the movie only had them and them alone- no one else. At the end of the day, that's it isn't it? Love is about two people and the things they confess and pour out only to each other; those moments you share that nobody else knows about, the presence you inhabit only in the company of the other, and the kind of person you are, only when you're with the one you love.

And these emotions transcend words, it's about how you feel and how these feelings emnate without you even saying anything. My two favorite scenes from the films have Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy just looking at each other, music playing and them just looking. In Before Sunrise, it's the one in the record shop listening booth where they're listening to Kath Bloom's Come Here. They're leaning side by side and trying hard to sneak glances at each other without the other one catching them. It's an 80-second extended shot and it was sublime. Just wacthing them watching each other, the awkwardness, the tension- you could almost feel the electricity of those first blossomings of desire crackling.

Nine years later, in Before Sunset, Julie Delpy plays the waltz for Ethan Hawke. He's sitting on her couch and she's on her bed and they're not even close to touching. But as the lyrics come out of her mouth, and she looks at him, and he looks back at her, it becomes one of the most poignant scenes ever committed to celluloid, especially if you've watched the first film. The song is her love letter to him- the torrent of feelings about this one man on that one night nine years ago finally channeled- simply and sweetly- to the right recepient. It feels wrong for you to be watching the scene because it's like you're intruding on someone's confession. It's an almost sacred moment for them. Excruciatingly brilliant.

"There's wind that blows in from the north.
And it says that loving takes this course.
Come here. Come here.
No I'm not impossible to touch I have never wanted you so much.
Come here. Come here.
Have I never laid down by your side.
Baby, let's forget about this pride.
Come here. Come here.
Well I'm in no hurry. Don't have to run away this time.
I know you're timid.
But it's gonna be all right this time."
- Kath Bloom, "Come Here"

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Since we're on the topic of Heartbreak

"If you haven't heard him... man, it's like he boiled down all the melancholy in the world, all the bruises and all the f**ked-up dreams you've let go, and poured the essence into a little tiny bottle and corked it up. And when he starts to play & sing, he takes the cork out, and you can smell it. You're pinned into your seat, as if it's a wall of noise, but it's not- it's still, and quiet, and you don't want to breathe in case you frighten it away."
- JJ from Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down talking about listening to Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


[click for album]

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Heartbreak

Two of our closest friends are going through a break-up right now and it's been real tough for them both. I guess the worst thing is that it isn't mutual so that really sucks. I remember having a conversation with Jude a long time ago about Love, and about how I've always thought of it akin to the taste of dark chocolate. To enjoy the decadent ambroisa of dark chocolate is to take the bitter with the sweet. Milk chocolate is too easy, and white chocolate, soulless. Dark chocolate on the other hand, is the essence of life, and love. Bitter and sweet, heartbreak and fulfilment.

Which brings me to, in the words of John Cusack in "High Fidelity", my Top 5 Heartbreak songs of all time. For one reason or another, these five songs have creeped to the top of the list amidst many other worthy contenders. Heartbreak songs aren't just about the pain, but also the yearning, the ache, and the poetry.

1) Joni Mitchell's A Case of You: It's all about the intoxication and the addiction here. Obsession maybe? And the concept of the bittersweet is clearly not lost on her either. Favorite line: "I remember that time that you told me, you said/ Love is touching souls/ Surely you touched mine/ Cause part of you pours out of me/ In these lines from time to time."

2) Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat: This song breaks my heart. It's written as a letter from Leonard Cohen to his best friend after he finds out that the friend slept with his wife. There is no rage nor anger, but gratitude almost, and a kind of empathy. It's a letter about a woman who shares her passion with two men, but not her love. Favorite lines: "Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes/ I thought it was there for good so I never tried."

3) The New Radicals' Someday We'll Know: Courtesy of my best friend who shared this in a time of need. The lyrics are especially well-written and the whimsicality of it all belies more than just a tinge of heartache and that incredulous questioning that accompanies all break-ups. All the whys and why nots... Favorite lines: "I bought a ticket to the end of the rainbow/ I watched the stars crash in the sea/ If I could ask God just one question/ Why aren’t you here with me?"

4) Mary Margaret O'Hara's To Cry About: Because it's a little obscure, I can't find the lyrics, but trust me when I say this song will tear you apart. It's all yearning, all ache. She drawls like a cross between Billie Holiday and Rickie Lee Jones which makes everything sound even more plaintive. This will haunt you in your sleep. Favorite lines: "You're in my heart, I'm in your hand/ Drop me off, I miss you and/ You give me something/ To cry about."

5) Bob Dylan's A Simple Twist of Fate: Jude shared this one with me years ago and I've always remembered it as being so very sad. So much in life, and love depends on just that one quirk of destiny. It's all the "what-could-have-been" and "if-only" moments rolled in one. Favorite lines: "People tell me it's a sin/ To know and feel too much within./ I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring./ She was born in spring, but I was born too late/ Blame it on a simple twist of fate."

What did you listen to when someone broke your heart?