Saturday, July 21, 2007

King Lear in Epic Proportions

(source of picture: http://www.rsc.org.uk/newsandevents/events/4652.aspx)

19 July 2007 - Opening night of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of King Lear at Singapore's Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. Ian McKellen in title role.

In one word. Astounding.

Two thumbs up, 10-min standing ovation, utterly spent audience. Full-house. An almost four-hour epic journey to the kernel of humanity and madness. Catharsis in this island state.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bangkok Beautiful #1

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Just returned from an amazing four-day weekend in Bangkok chez J, who has the best taste in art by the way. Dean and I went up first on Thurs night, and D joined us on Friday night and it was all systems go! Dean's and my excitement (and hence, our holiday) started on Thursday afternoon. How else to express our delight but in rhyme?


Erawan Shrine, Bangkok

Me:
Oh me oh my

Tonight we shall fly
My luggage I bring
To meet the Thai king!

Dean:
Oh dear me hearties
This will be a party
When we take flight
Our way to the King's palace
Oh what a sight!

Bonsai and the golden stupa, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Dean and I in our palace outfits. He had to don pants and I had to put on a borrowed shirt as my pashmina didn't cut it.

Me:
Thinking thoughts of red ruby
Buying bras to make me booby
Siam is my favourite place
When I want to leave the race!

Dean:
Life here can be a bitch
It is quite a rut
But now I feel right
In my pockets full of bahts!

Flourescent sunbeams, Grand Palace, Bangkok

Me:
Light dinner I am having
As cake I shall eat
Once I'm safe in transit
At 8 we shall meet?


Dean:
Oh As in unison with all my cells and the rest
The answer is a YES!

Dean took many photos. And I took many of him taking photos.


Chez J in the heart of Bangkok. We all liked his art. Like really liked his art...


Me:
In the train I ride
Trusty luggage at my side
Excitement laid bare
With nary a care!

Dean:
Oh As the sun wanes
I am on the train
To the airport I go
As my face glows.

Drinks at restaurant-for-beautiful-people, Thang Long along Soi Lang Suan

Me:
I smell the whiff of lavender
Now into the open I emerge
Peering through my new glasses
Looking forward to greener grasses!

Dean:
Where is this place asked my nose
very much I am in the heart of Eunos
As I leave this place a'bellicose
So there goes all my woes

Dean and I want humane jobs. We want to be humane to the world. We will start by looking humane then maybe people will give us jobs in the UN. Outside J's amazing office overlooking the Chao Praya.

D and J having an animated discussion/drinking game to solve the problems in the world. J's balcony right outside his office. Have we said it overlooks the Chao Praya yet?


Dean (haiku):
The train leaves Expo
I think of tomyum and such
The heart flutters now

Me (responding with a rhyming haiku):
Passed Paya Lebar
I think of Hari Raya
What meals tomorrow?

Dean:
Ok you win liao.


We are NOT tourists though we be posing along Khao San road.




Sunday, July 08, 2007

Glimpsing the world with fresh eyes

View of Singapore city skyline from Ann Siang Hill Park

What a week it's been - visitors from New Zealand (en route to a new life in Adelaide), overdue catch-up with friends, a wedding and a wake, throw in multiple deadlines and dramas at work PLUS a fevered completion of Season1 of Prison Break, and it feels like I've just packed in a month's living in seven days. Phew!

At lunch on Monday, D and I take a walk to Ann Siang Hill park, just 2 minutes round the corner from my work. It's a tiny slice of secluded calm in the Singapore CBD.

A clear concrete line marks where urban jungle ends and green oasis begins.

It's lunchtime and no one is around, most people preferring for some strange reason to stand in queues in stifling hawker centres with their colleagues, talking over the din (or are they just adding to it?). I make a note to self that this is the perfect spot on a cloudy day to come with a sandwich and a book.

Foliage, foliage, foliage

Mid-week, and M and R, old friends from our Wellington days stop by Singapore for a few days. Can't describe how wonderful it is to see them again after more than two and a half years. Their joie de vie is contagious and I find my mood really lifted after spending two nights with them. We have dinner at Chinatown then coffee at Clarke Quay by the Singapore River. Experiencing Singapore through their eyes makes me remember again all the nice things about this city.

M, R and I at Clarke Quay, minutes before we see Singapore's saddest belly dancer outside Shiraz.

The next night, we meet them at New Asia Bar (yes, it's touristy but the views... astounding) on the 70th floor of Swissotel the Stamford. M and R are originally from Israel, but they now call themselves citizens of the Pacific. They're en route to Australia, leaving windy Wellington behind to start life anew. They add to the economy by buying up loads at the Great Singapore Sale. It's sad when we bid them farewell at the MRT station but I know the next time we meet, we'll still have great conversations and laughs.

Watching the sunset from New Asia Bar.

R tells us an amazing story about Masada, an ancient Jewish fortress overlooking the Dead Sea. The story goes that instead of surrendering to the invading Romans, a group of zealous rebels - comprising almost a thousand men, women and children - resisted for over a year in this impregnable fortress, until the Romans "constructed a rampart of thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth against the western approaches of the fortress and, in the spring of the year 74 CE, moved a battering ram up the ramp and breached the wall of the fortress" (ref: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org).

Masada, Dead Sea, Israel (source: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

Finally, with the Roman army's approach looming inevitable, the "Zealots cast lots to choose 10 men to kill the remainder. They then chose among themselves the one man who would kill the survivors. That last Jew then killed himself."

I'm strangely affected by the story, maybe because ancient though it is, I can't help but think of the backdrop of violence that we live our daily lives against. Be it Islamabad, Kabul, Basra, Hatyai, Glasgow or London, are we doomed to repetition?

That said, I was also moved by the rather kitsch Live Earth Concert. So maybe there is a yin to this yang. Crowded House played their set in darkness. And the Dhol Foundation rocked the stage in London.

Ok maybe my rambling is getting simplistic (and lacks proper analysis, but hey, I'm writing this blog for fun). Anyway, I wonder what stories will hold a thousand years from now. In the meantime, I'll carry on adding my tiny blog whispers to the meta narrative.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Beguiled by Mr Pip

I started reading this book with a sense of trepidation. It all stemmed from the well-worded blurb which produced a sense of dread in me (very similar to how I felt reading Ian McEwan's "Atonement").

Mister Pip is written by Kiwi author Lloyd Jones and is set in a village on a Pacific Island (which I've googled and discovered to be Bougainville) sometime in the 1990s. Civil war has broken out, and the villagers live on a machete-edge of tension - on one side there is the Papua New Guinean army (whom they mockingly term 'redskins') and on the other, the rebels or 'rambos', made up of young men from the villages.

Enter the protagonist Matilda, a young village girl on the cusp of puberty, her dogmatic mother, living with the knowledge that her beer-bellied husband is living the Aussie immigrant lifestyle as a miner in Townsville, and the only white man left in the village, Mr Watts. When the school is closed down due to the blockade imposed by the army, Mr Watts takes it upon himself to take on the role of vilage teacher, and he does so by reading aloud to the kids Dickens' Great Expectations, a chapter a day.

To the children, the story of Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham are as real as the violence that forms the backdrop to their lives. Matilda's imagination, especially, is set aflame and she writes down PIP in the sand one day. When the soldiers see the name, they demand to know who Pip is, and their search to find him (and this is the bit in the blurb that caused the dread) "will have devastating consequences for all".

Aside from the obvious theme of escapism via imagination and storytelling, Mr Pip is foremost a story about narratives. Of course, Dickens' universally-loved story Great Expectations, is the behemoth which imbues the other narratives - from Matilda's mother's life story and unshakable Christian beliefs propogated in "the good book," to the tale that Mr Watts spins for seven nights to stay the imminent violence, which in itself alludes to Scheherezade's 101 nights, and finally, to Matilda's tale, which frames the entire novel.

It is, as its backcover touts, "a love song to the power of the imagination and of storytelling. It shows how books can change lives." It also a tribute to peace, and how the human soul can transcend unspeakable horrors and violence through art and a shared memory of the stories that resonate with the human condition. For Matilda, Great Expectations becomes her life story and passion, and she devotes her life to the study of it, and through that, is able to overcome the tragedies she has witnessed.

Oh, and it was also pretty cool to see our ex-hometown Wellington featured as a backdrop. Jones' description of Wellington in December was spot-on.

A wind hurled itself at trees, at people. Paper - I have never seen so much wind-blown paper - it blew across the tarmac, it stuck in the overhead pylons.

Reading the passage triggered a series of vivid memories for me, of D's and my bracing walking home from work every day, of emerging from a warm pub after quiz night to the blustery cold, and eating brunch at an outdoor cafe always watchful in case the wind snatched a piece of bacon away. Gosh, I don't think about it much but when I do, I miss the life there (wind and all)!

As for Mister Pip, thought it started out iffy for me, I ended up loving it. Read it if you get the chance.