Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ah Mui...

It's so great to see you smiling again at the birthday present I got you - your bright smile reminded me of you when you were little, a genuine, carefree smile which was a bit incongruous with your rock-chick style long-sleeved tee and metal studded waist band. I was so afraid that you wouldn't like what I picked out for you, that you might find the cute felt make-up pouch bag and the woolly slippers too girly... How pleased was I to see that you tried on those woolly slippers immediately and then, for the rest of the evening, idly twisting and twirling your feet in admiration of them while we watched telly together... It's been quite a while since I had had such an ordinary family evening, and I didn't realise how much I missed them...

I'm especially thrilled that you're actually interested in the books that I bought you. I had my whole patter prepared about enticing you to try them out, so I was pleasantly surprised when I've hardly finished saying that the book in my hand was my favourite of the three that I bought you, when you saw the cover of "Life of Pi" yourself and then called out in enthusiastic recognition that you had read an excerpt of that book in your schoolwork, and that you are really interested in finding out what happened to the Indian boy... Am glad that you will be enjoying one of my favourite books of all time, but am even more grateful that you and I haven't lost that easy sisterly connection that we used to have :)

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Regaining a sense of purpose...

Although my official 30th birthday (a weekday) was passed in a fug of non-stop sneezing and high temperatures, AFTER having to go to work dealing with the new class as well as surviving intense meetings with departmental heads, and not being able to go out on the town as I had to be back at work very early the next morning - on reflection (and that was after quite some time has elapsed), it was probably fitting that I shouldered on my adult responsibilities on the day I became an official adult.

I remember reading in some magazine a long time ago, when a female columnist was rambling on about her fear of turning 30, that for her it was a brutal wake-up call as she asked herself this rhetorical question, "how could one be an ingenue at 30????" At the time I read this I was in my mid-twenties, thinking by age 30 I would have sorted myself out and would not have to ask myself such mind-numbingly pointless existential questions. Turned out the joke was on me. I had (and still have) immense difficulties saying goodbye to my 20's because I don't want to let go of the image of myself as young and carefree, that I still have my whole life ahead of me and all the possibilities in the world to pursue at my leisure. It was bad enough turning 25, when I missed being in that prime advertising target group of 18-24. But I realise now how lucky being late-20's was compared to being in your 30's. This wasn't helped by a segment in the BBC breakfast show the other day that says that 30's is officially a woman's toughest decade according to a survey by a women's health magazine.

I know of course that a lot of the above has to do with one's attitude. Life's possibilities do not start or end with any particular age (well, apart from childbearing, but I'm not freaking out over that). I DO still have my whole life ahead of me, and I should be and I am really grateful that I do. It is the "at my leisure" part that is freaking me out. There is a palpable sense of time running out, that I have more to lose than before, that there is now a certain level of gravitas attached to the decisions I make because I'd have to make every single one of them count and cannot afford to make mistakes...

But actually, you know what, strike that last part out. The perfectionist in me says that I cannot afford to make mistakes even when I was just 17 and deciding on what university course to take. The philosopher in me now says that it is not about the mistakes I make, but whether I learn anything from them. I know for sure now that whatever I do, there'd always be an opportunity cost of what could be if I have taken the other option. Do I still have the guts to take the road less travelled? Do I still have the guts to go after my dreams? The real mistake is to let my past so-called mistakes prevent me from pursuing my life to the fullest.

Perhaps that's the real reason behind my sense of regret at turning 30 - I wish I'd have achieved more in life by this birthday. I thought I would have been feeling pretty secure in the career I've chosen, that I would be in a stable relationship, that I would really know who my best friends are, that I would have written a prize-winning, best-selling novel (a "heart-breaking work of staggering genius" that really deserves that title)...

But on reflection, the above are slightly more superficial things compared to what really mattered: figuring out who I am and what I want. And on that score, I haven't been doing too badly. Especially lately. My 20's were in some sense my wilderness years, when I lost the sense of purpose and naive optimism I had coming straight out of college, and haven't been quite able to replace those with anything other than false hopes and occasional caustic cynicism. Until now.

My meetings with departmental heads on my birthday, though gruelling, did help me clarify for myself who I am and what I am about. That I am no longer prepared to take any more shit from anybody. That I have a lot to offer, and do not have to sell myself short. Also, I found out who my real friends are, and that my family cares about me, a lot. I just have to make sure I spend time with them, to make sure these people remain in my life, and I in theirs. They are the people who matter.

To quote from the new Mastercard ad campaign: "Knowing who are your real boss. Priceless."

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sick and tired...

Warning: this is a completely self-indulgent and self-pitying post.

This couple of weeks is the start of term, the new beginning, not to mention the fact that my big (and dreaded) 3-0 is looming ever larger later this week...

I have so much to do, but last week went okay, with the return of the second years, all (miraculously) still keen and enthusiastic for their new term. I have my work cut out for me over the weekend. My original plan of devoting equal time to all three of my supervisees were blown to shreds when I spent the entire Sunday helping out one student on the phone going over her final draft (that was one helluva marathon phone call from 11am until 6pm, with a half-hour break for lunch at 2pm!).

So it meant pulling an all-nighter from Sunday going into Monday, and I was deceived by the sunny outlook of the early morning into wearing summery top and skirt and just a woolly cardi-thingy. I knew I made a big mistake when I was 20 minutes early at the bus stop and had to endure gusts of chilly morning breeze while cursing self for not double-checking the time-table to make sure there was indeed an earlier bus (when am I finally going to learn that the bus service in this country is really atrocious and that Murphy's Law dictates that you'd never get an early bus when you're actually early at the bus stop?).

Anyway, meetings and phone calls ensued throughout the day, busier than other times of the year because obviously, this is the start of the year. Managed to get a mocha mid-morning from nearby Starbucks, but didn't really touch it as was talking on phone all the time. 2pm rolled around and I permitted myself to get out of the office to get a sandwich and more Starbucks mocha (which I did finish).

By the time the 5pm supervision meeting arrived, I was dog-tired (since I've been on the go since 3am) and there's an uncanny scratch at my throat. Unfortunately, what I had hoped as a 1 hour meeting turned into a 4 hour marathon meeting, without any break or any sustenance, and the three of us finally left the already-deserted building at 9pm. (And I was still supposed to be working on another student's draft that evening!)

Thing is, we came out of the building, and the deep deep autumn cold hit me with full force. I was going to jump into a taxi straight away, but then I ended up walking to the bus stop as I chatted to the student (who still had a 3.5 hour bus journey ahead of him so I really couldn't complain). Anyway, I ended up not going to the bus stop either, as the thought of taking the circuitous bus route to head home and THEN have to cook dinner from scratch was just too depressing to contemplate, so I went to a cafe to get dinner, only to end up waiting three quarters of an hour for a lukewarm plate of pasta to arrive.

By the time I got home it was nearly 11pm, I promised myself I would get throat sweets first thing in the morning (I was craving Merocets like you wouldn't believe)as well as some cold medication. I went to bed promising myself I would get up bright and early this morning (technically speaking yesterday morning as it's now 2:20am on Wednesday morning) to catch up on what I had planned to do on Monday evening.

I did get up at 6am, but with a fever and without a voice. Got changed into a cute autumn outfit, had my new shoes and even had my woolly hat on, but as I was waiting for time to pass before heading out to catch the bus (as I wasn't going to repeat the mistake of waiting for it to arrive out in the cold again), my body by way of a throbbing headache was saying "noooooo noooooo don't go out into the cold!!!". As I drank another glass of lemon tea and honey I debated about the work that I needed to do and what I could reasonably reschedule or work from home, and finally rang into the office at 9am to rasp that I would not make it in the morning, but would try to make the meetings scheduled at lunch and in the afternoon. Then my body just shut down, as I passed out on the sofa still in my work clothes.

I came to around 11:30am, and rang into the office to say that I wouldn't be able to come in at all. Although I still haven't eaten anything since the pasta from the night before, I had no appetite, and spent the day having cups of Lemsip - the only cold/flu "medicine" that I have in the kitchen - as well as cups of lemon and honey tea (thanking God that I actually have lemons from my last grocery shop!).

As this is the first time I've fallen ill since I moved into the new flat in an unfamiliar area, I have no idea where the local GP clinic is, and in any case, I'm not certain if I'm even up to leaving the apartment. The day was passed checking work emails and then reading blogs, but I was so lethargic that I didn't reply any. I thought of contacting the out-of-hours doctor, remembering there was a leaflet I got with their contact numbers on it, but I'd have to wait until after 6pm. While thinking about where that leaflet might be, I fell asleep again.

When I woke up it was early evening time, and I had still had nothing to eat since the night before. I looked at my fridge, finally deciding on making myself a pot of chicken congee (thanking god that I had pieces of chicken breasts in my freezer). More Lemsip and lemon and honey tea followed while I waited for the rice gruel to be ready. (And now when I'm typing this, I realised I've also put a carton of chicken soup in the microwave which I've clean forgotten about!! Oh well...).

Finally, I settled to a comforting bowl of congee in front of a Friends re-run on the telly. That was bliss. (And the only time I didn't feel too sorry for myself...)

But then I fell asleep again and just woken up about an hour ago, and now I have to finish off the presentation that I am going to give first thing later this morning (as it's now 2:46am so it is indeed "this" morning).

I really, really, really dread having to put my game face up in front of a brand new class when I'm feeling like absolute shit inside. Plus, I do not think I would have gotten my voice back in a mere few hours....

But c'est la vie. Anyway, first thing first, should start my Powerpoint now...

(p.s. thanks Tourist and Laichungleung for your kind comments on my blog, shall reply properly once I got some form of energy back...)

Update:
It's 6:10am and I've just got my two presentation decks sorted and emailed. There's a mountain of scrunched up tissues beside me but hey, I survived! My whole nose/throat/mouth area is still completely blocked though... anyway, onto the morning routine...

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti... 1935 to 2007


Thank you for your music.


Pavarotti's world-famous rendition of the "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot, alongside Carreras and Domingo, as part of the Three Tenors performance during the World Cup finals in Italy in 1990. He was the man behind the idea of bringing three world-class tenors together. This recording of their performance in Rome subsequently became one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, for which the three tenors received no royalty as the performance was given on a flat fee basis. A series of Three Tenors concerts around the world followed, which brought classical and operatic music to a global audience. Pavarotti was instrumental in increasing the accessibility of classical music to the general public, performing in outdoor concerts (most notable of which is the one in London's Hyde Park, with Princess Diana in the front row, who took the lead to get rid of her umbrella in spite of the pouring rain, and the entire crowd followed suit, so that the whole audience got to enjoy the performance without viewing obstruction), and doing cross-over work with pop and rock groups such as U2 and the Spice Girls, dismissing criticisms by classical purists by saying "I don't want purists to go to the Three Tenors". In spite of his "poperatic" work, Pavarotti remained a giant in classical opera, garnering life-time achievement awards and continuing to help nurture young talents in classical opera (according to Harvey Goldsmith, the producer of his Farewell Concert Tour, in an interview with More4 news yesterday, he was still meeting with his students two weeks ago). He has also performed in many charity concerts, including raising funds for the War Child campaign during the Bosnian conflict in the 90's. He was in the middle of his Farewell concert tour when he suddenly and finally succumbed to pancreatic cancer, and passed away surrounded by his family in a hospital in his home town of Modena, Italy, yesterday (6th September, 2007).

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Scale of Life...

Savage Chicken: Scale of Life

I'm soooo going to use this in my class as a way of explaining scale designs!

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Remaking Sabrina... [spoiler alert]

A few weekends ago friend E visited me after coming back from her 6-week-long trek through South-East Asia (taking in 5 countries from Laos to Malaysia to Vietnam, none of which I have actually been to myself). After dinner and catching up over bottles of wine we settled down to watch DVDs until the wee hours of the morning, and gosh it must have been years since I've done a girlie nite-in [correction: I should say it must have been years since I've hosted a girlie nite-in, as I just remember that I occasionally had sleepovers at friends' places, but just never my own], previously because I didn't have a place of my own, and anyway we all have such busy lives that we seldom have the luxury of our teenage years to stay up and chat all night anymore...

Anyway, the first movie we watched was an old black-and-white classic, Sabrina (1954), starring Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart (l) and William Holden (r).
The movie was chosen because I happened to have recently acquired an Audrey Hepburn movie classic box-set from the HMV summer sales, and having both seen Breakfast at Tiffany's umpteen times, we went for Sabrina out of the other choices available, because E has seen a remake of it from the 90's and quite enjoyed the remake version. I have never seen either versions so happily went along...

And my, how were we shocked by this original!! Watching this movie is like watching a crystallized form of 1950's gender and class relations and morality, a genteel world untouched by the women's rights movement or contemporary paedophilic scandals. From a post-feminist perspective, we could not believe some of the lines of the dialogue, and indeed, the casting choices. Audrey Hepburn is absolutely perfect in her role as the naive chauffeur's daughter falling for the tycoon's son, but Humphrey Bogart??????? He looked old enough to be her grand-dad, never mind her dad. Yes I know that old movies usually have female stars paired with much older male stars (case in point: Nancy Kwan and William Holden in the World of Suzie Wong), but this pairing doesn't work even in the context of the story itself: Humphrey Bogart looks even older than the actor who plays Hepburn's father (the chauffeur), and they only just about managed to find a slightly even more wizenly-looking old man to play Bogart's own father in the movie.

Anyway, Bogart didn't exude any of the older male magnetism that his role demands - he looked terrible in all his outfits, a grumpy old man who played as if all this was beneath him (and it probably was, he should not have continued on playing a romantic lead against such a young actress, and from IMDB I discovered that he didn't like Audrey Hepburn at all, and wanted his then wife Lauren Bacall to play opposite him instead - now that pairing could have probably worked out a lot better if only because Bogart might have had better chemistry with Bacall).

Oh yes, the dialogues. OMG, how dire were they! The key scene that had me and my friend up in arms and yelling at the telly was the one where Bogart visited Hepburn in the indoor tennis court allegedly on behalf of his brother (played by Holden). I mean, "Keep it in the family"?????!!!!!?????? What? The girl is just a thing, a china vase that should be passed round from one brother to the next like some sort of exotic heirloom?????? This is bordering on creepy incest! Why oh why did Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina not give him a good slap (like Julia Ormond's Sabrina did, more on this later), but actually allowed him to kiss her?

Oh, and what's with the older gentleman in Paris who took an interest in her and gave her money to buy the latest Parisian fashion and all, wasn't he just a more genteel version of a modern-day sugar-daddy??? Shouldn't her father worry about all these older guys being interested in his precious daughter?

Speaking of which, that scene towards the end, between Bogart as the rich and powerful Linus Larrabee and Sabrina's father as his obedient chauffeur, when Bogart was actually ordering Sabrina's father to drive him to meet Sabrina, ohmigod, how plain inappropriate is that? Bogart's Linus didn't feel the need at all to give any respect or attention to his driver even though he was allegedly in love with his driver's daughter, and didn't notice anything wrong until the chauffeur plucked up his courage to speak up. How fucking snobbish is that?

The whole thing is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Except for one thing: Audrey Hepburn (and all her to-die-for Givenchy outfits)! Oh, Audrey looked absolutely divine throughout this movie, even from the very beginning when she was meant to be this naive ugly-duckling of a chauffeur's daughter, she was wearing this cute polka dot dress that compliments her gamine beauty really well...


However, the dress that made me gasp, the one that really showed off her tiny, tiny waist and really made her the belle of the ball, is the below gorgeous strapless satin and tulle gown with embroidered brocade details from Givenchy (and which, apparently according to the IMDB, Audrey picked out personally herself, and which helped garner the film an Oscar for costume design).

Of course, while the dresses themselves were divine, it was Audrey's luminous quality and unmistakable polish that made her shine. Even as a young actress faced with two well-established older male leads, she had no problems outshining them with her wit and beauty and, it has to be said, class. Her effortless elegance in the way she carried herself and spoke, as well as her sense of humour, made this cringe-worthy film eminently watchable. Apparently, according to the IMBD trivia page again, Audrey and William fell in love in the making of this movie... Awww... how sweet (and how sad that apparently they later separated because she found out he couldn't have children...).

So that was a few weekends ago, why did I suddenly bring that up here now? Well, very late last night the remake version of Sabrina (1995) was actually on telly and it was by sheer coincidence that I discovered it! I managed to catch most of the film, thinking how lucky I was to be able to catch the remake version just a few weekends after I've seen the original, especially when my friend and I concluded, after watching the 1954 version, that Sabrina was just that rare old movie where a modern remake would actually do it some good.

However, I must say that I am very disappointed in this remake also. Obviously, my friend has already told me much about the new version during our thrashing of the old version: that the new version has a much more independent Sabrina, that she got to use her skills, that she slapped Linus for his slimey "keep it in the family" kiss, that her chauffeur father wasn't stuck in his job but managed to amass a fortune as a result of astute investments during his decades of service to the Larrabees, that Linus Larrabee bristled at others' calling Sabrina a "chauffeur's daughter" and only got to find Sabrina by explicitly and humbly asking for consent from his chauffeur.... These progressive updates are all well and good, and really made the saccharine fairy tale plot a lot easier to swallow than before.

But oh, here we have mis-castings again! This time, it is the female lead. While Sydney Pollack as the director has finally given us a worthy Linus Larrabee in the form of Harrison Ford:
I mean, Harrison Ford versus Humphrey Bogart, Harrison wins hands down, no contest.

The same however cannot be said for Julia Ormond as the latter day replacement for the divine Audrey Hepburn. And it's not just about the looks either (although Winona Ryder would have been so much better has she accepted the role when it has first gone to her according to IMDB) - Julia just doesn't have the level of polish that Audrey had. Julia's Sabrina is still the same awkward kid upon her return from Paris, the only thing that changed about her was her haircut and her clothes, but what about the confidence, the erudition, the innate elegance that Audrey's Sabrina was able to bring upon her return from Paris? Julia's Sabrina has none of that, even though her Sabrina was explicitly mentored by a strong female role model and was encouraged by her boyfriend during her stint in Paris, while all Audrey's Sabrina had in Paris was a creepy old man from her cookery class taking a shine to her.

Case in point 1: Upon her entrance to Larrabee's party, Audrey's Sabrina, resplendent in that beautiful dress, walked in confidently by herself, believing in her right to be there and knowing that she herself is the belle of the ball. Julia's Sabrina on the other hand, felt awkward even in her new dress and new look, and hesitated at the entrance until David Larrabee (in the form of the likeable but not-at-all-handsome Greg Kinnear) came out and extended his hand to invite her in.

Case in point 2: When Audrey's Sabrina learnt of Bogart's Linus' preposterous plot to get rid of her by seducing her away from David, she went away quietly, and with dignity, and didn't shed a tear. When Julia's Sabrina learnt about the same from Harrison's Linus, she was visibly heart-broken and cried.

It's enough to make me wonder: perhaps one's confidence and elegance only grows from having to deal successfully with creepy old men? That an awkward girl cannot become an elegant woman through sheer hard work and mentorship alone, as none of that prepares her for handling men with grace and wit?

Anyway, I know what I want if I were to miraculously be given the reins to direct another remake of Sabrina... Not only will the plot be kept updated to get rid of all the creepiness of the original, but much better stars are available to play the leads (am thinking George Clooney would make a great Linus - he could easily play a mean yet extremely irresistable Linus at the drop of a hat... As for Sabrina, it's quite hard to find a gem like Audrey anymore, perhaps Keira Knightley at a stretch?)
All image credits: Imdb.com

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A bunch of snowdrops by any other name...

SNOWDROPS
S is for Sweet
N is for Natural
O is for Open-hearted
W is for Worldly
D is for Dedicated
R is for Romantic
O is for Original
P is for Perfectionist
S is for Special
What Does Your Name Mean?