Monthly Archives: July 2012

Public service announcement

I’m growing a beard. 

It’s getting longer by the day. It’s a fuzzball on my chin now, curlycues of hedghog spines pregnant with my DNA. When I run my fingers through it it speaks to me, like a dead twin, intimately, telepathically. How are you today? Prickled, certainly. 

Until I get to Japan, it will remain. Once I arrive, the knives will be out. Because I have a job with clients there. Something about paying money that makes people dislike beards. I don’t see how being theirs for an hour for monetary return equates to my having to lay bear my deepest secrets also, or at least seemingly having to do so. Beats the hell outta me if ya ask me. 

Anyways, when I’m an artist. I’m going to travel around with nothing but a beard. Swear on buddha’s mother’s grave I do. If only because I can’t really fire myself, and, contra freud jung rank and modern psychoanalysis, I have nothing to hide from myself. Pure destruction. 

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Review: Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut

I’ll try to keep this to under 10 minutes. Life is hectic, can’t blog too long.

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Director: Ridley Scott

I actually saw the short version at the cinemas 5 or so years ago. At the time, I truly disliked the movie for its audacity in mutilating history, and pidgeon-holing the events into the classic hollywood epic flick formula. Good guy (Orlando Bloom) has to protect the treasure (Jerusalem) and the girl (the Queen) from the bad guy (the muslim Saladin).

This is not the case in the director’s cut. Ridley Scott actually wanted to make a movie that was not formulaic but loosely based on historical events, and accurately portraying both sides of the siege of Jerusalem some 1000 years ago. Though I was not there, nor am I a historian, the director’s cut seemed very well balanced, many of the Christians were still mostly fanatical and war crazed, but that can be expected. The more moderate christians and the muslims were given far more screen time in the director’s cut, a good thing, and another good outcome was that Orlando Bloom’s screentime was reduced. There’s still the obligatory super soft core sex scene, but in the scheme of things, it’s not so bad, especially as he doesn’t appear for about half of the second part of the movie.

The director’s cut is 40 minutes longer than the original, and was intended to be released in cinemas but was cut by the studio. The film flopped at the cinemas.

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On leaving the country and sweatshops

So the obvious has happened. I was offered a job as an english tutor in Tokyo; truly, it was never in doubt. My bags aren’t packed, my visa not ready, but my ticket is booked for the 23 August.

I’ve been here for far too long. People are getting old. If I don’t leave now I will never leave. I feel like, finally, this is my own story, being written, lived, by me. Not my father’s story, not my mother’s. Though I will, in time, write their stories.

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I don’t want to exult too much (because it’s no big deal get in a job teaching your native language). And, further, I’m currently watching a short documentary on sweatshops on Saipan (American Territory). A painful reminder that the clothes I love so much, are made in the same conditions I try to avoid in my own life, repetitive work, hard work, the selling of time, indentured labour, physical labour, slavery, chains. 8 -16 hours a day, for the princely sum of some $7000 a year. Hourly wage of $3.5 USD. Poor ladies getting exploited.

Many of these ladies are promised a better life in the USA and so they fork over a year or two’s chinese wages just to go to Saipan – which they are told is a part of the Great US of A with all its laws, rights, and freedoms. But they are greatly mistaken when they arrived and are carted in worn old buses and crammed into barracks that are guarded all day and all night. They are given quotas that are increased when reached but without reward, yet if they do not reach their quotas they are threatened with dismissal, and what of the debt they incurred to their paymaster’s then? These women must stay, pay off their debt which they incurred in going to Saipan with their first year’s salary, and then spend a few more years hoping to earn some money for themselves and their families in China. An alarming fact raised in the program is that the corporations can deduct up to 200 USD per month for living expenses and board, whereas the average monthly salary is about 500 USD. Scant reward for their labour. Yet, that the women do not rebel, means this is the true state of the world labour market. People are willing to work for a couple of dollars an hour, doing mind-numbing labour. The masses, truly are the masses for a reason. They may all be slightly brutish by our standards, but that is only because they were never given the same opportunities we were, so before we condemn them as beasts, let us not forget that we are merely beasts who have no need to give up our manners and humanist tendencies (usually) in the thinly veiled fight for survival that is, and always will be, life.

Blogging surely is one of those privileges, as is Burberry clothing.

My questions ~ Who will take up the sword? But will these cause my garment prices to rise? What will I wear then? Is this hypocrisy? Is it the nature of humanity to continually exploit everything around us. I doubt I could stop wearing nice clothes. I doubt it. Shit!

In the end, I think this is a real problem with modern life. Do we care more about the welfare of a human stranger? Or do we care more about the value of our purchasing power. If there were no sweat shops, our clothes might cost twice to three times as much or even more. How do you make such a decision when you can’t even feel the pain of another… can’t even feel pain ourselves…

The link is here… http://www.smh.com.au/tv/Fashion/Behind-the-Labels-4272008.html

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On choosing words

Words are hard to choose. There are many words that mean the same thing. To me, it appears there are two questions in choosing words.

1. What do you want to communicate.
2. How will it be interpreted.

And there in lies the great difficulty in writing. What does the reader actually want? Granted, there are many types of readers. Some read for enjoyment, others because of inertia, and some others out of masochistic pride. I read for a mixture of all three.

I have no answers here. But it’s a question I’m pondering over. What do you, the reader, want from me? Isn’t late night television, instant pornography, or contacts sports doing it for you? Why the heck do you want to open a book and subject yourself to the pain of imagining and to the whim of the author?

Thank god for you.

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As an afterward, I am reading three books today. The bonfire of the vanities (Wolfe), A wild sheet chase (Murakami), The amazing adventures of cavalier & play (chabon). How sweet life is.

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Review: The English Patient (Novel)

Author: Michael Ondaatje
Publisher: Bloomsbury

This actually won the booker prize in 1992. I have a habit of picking up and reading booker prize winners. Suffice to say my opinion of the booker prize has decreased ever so slightly with this… this… bitter fruit of tender skin.

The story focuses on a nurse in the Italian villa de Girolamo who cares for a burnt up man they call the English Patient. He is a genius and they are joined by a Caravaggio, a thief, and Singh, an Indian sapper, who is also a genius. The primary dramatic questions are ‘who is the english patient?’, and ‘how have they suffered during the war?’ and ‘how will they deal with the ghosts of that suffering?’

Where to start. You read the book and you are bewildered by the language. All the phrases, sentences, paragraphs are put together like a contemporary sculpture, like graceful conflicts of curves and lines, circles and squares and triangles and tetrahedrons. It’s at once beautiful and f***ing confusing. You set your eyes to the sentence, and it flows but comes to an abrupt stop before anything and he’s already on the next thought, and instead of being straightforward about it he has to express the second or third layer of emotion. So you’re constantly fighting the author, trying to figure out what’s going on. Worse is, this doesn’t just happen on the micro level, it also happens on the many macro levels. The story is told in a series of flash backs, and some of the most important stuff is left to the end. I’m not stupid, so I did figure out what was going on, but it took a lot of effort. And I don’t like it when books take too much effort, it saps the enjoyment!

And if you’re not going to read for enjoyment? Then what are you going to read for. (To write a hit novel… but that’s another story)

One positive is that the book is well researched, just flip to the acknowledgements at the end and you’ll notice that Mr. Ondaatje spent some time in the archives of the London geographical society and did other research of arcana related to desert exploration. I am unconvinced this proved very useful for the reader, unless he is a genius like  2 of the 4 main characters in the book… except that it makes the reading experience more authentic, though slightly harder. Parts of the Sahara are particularly harsh on the metaphorical tongue.

Plotwise, it’s actually quite weak. The main thrust, or the primary love story they pontificate about in the blurb actually unfolds in the last sixth of the book in the form of a flash back, unravelling the genesis of the burnt up English Patient. Up until then, it’s flash backs on the history of the other characters, some mild love scenes between the most unlikely characters (hardly believable). However these are clearly secondary to the bulk of the content which is Mr. Ondaatje’s forte, the description of moments of fleeting beauty, sadness, lacrimae, or what have you in graceful yet discordant English prose; they’re meant to serve a purpose, and I suppose if you had the time to really meditate on these little morsels of prose which are almost self-sufficient, and littered liberally in any which order, then by all means I recommend this book to you. Otherwise, think twice.

Rating: 5.5/10

Sound boring? Read the movie, it has a good cast (Ralph Feinnes? Collin Firth?), and won something like 8 academy awards including best picture and best actor.

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Review: Hotel Rwanda

Director: Terry George

Perhaps it’s my dark nature but I’m very drawn to massacres and media dealing with massacres. Schindler’s list, The pianist, Primo Levi, Vonnegut, I watch and read with the attention I do not give to others, such as Jane Austen.

Hotel Rwanda is the story of the Hotelier Paul Ruvasagina who is a Hutu Hotelier in the employ of a Belgium hotel and who saves a thousand or so Tutsi’s by allowing them to take refuge in the hotel and trying to ensure their safe passage through bribery and solicitation of the UN peace keepers.

In reality the Rwandan massacre was a most unfortunate event in human history where over a million people were killed in 100 days on the basis that they were tsutsis, probably worse than killing jews because the tsutsis were for most purposes no different to the hutus, the division being arbitrarily made by Belgium colonialists – a point made quite clear in the film when Joaquin Phoenix (of gladiator fame) asks one lady which they are and they say ‘hutu’ and then asks her firend and the reply is ‘tsutsi’.

The plotline is somewhat constrained by the fact that the film is based on real life events, so the director would be really in for it if he were to say, wrap a cape around Paul the hotelier and have him take up an angry sub-machine gun in with unlimited ammunition to all the hutus. The usual eye for an eye moral code would have been very enjoyable, far more than the faithful truth where Paul is only a hotelier with limited means.

I think the only liberty with the truth that the director has taken is to include a lousy, but requisite, love story between Paul and his wife. Love within wedlock is cute, but not titillating. At least, it is thankful that Paul isn’t portrayed as an absolute saint because he is a man with his priorities right – family first, and he is driven by fear, vanity etc. I’m not denying the existence of love, but merely saying it wasn’t quite like that right?

In a nutshell the movie is simply a character study of the hotelier man, he begins arrogant, he see’s some  bad stuff, he acts instinctively to do the humane thing, he suffers, he gets angry, he gets battered, but he weathers it and he survives and is a hero. Everyone else may as well be made from cardboard because they don’t really get a look in, the UN colonel, the wife, the brother, the sister, the wife, the humanitarian worker, the cameramen; there’s not enough screen time for their backgrounds to be fleshed out, or even for Paul’s childhood to be decried. It is thankful in this case that Don Cheadle does such a good job playing him, though it was alarming to find later that night that he plays the guy in War Machine in Iron man 2 – but who will check us in at the hotel Michelin in Kigali? Of special mention for worst acting is the UN colonel, I know his directions from the director must’ve been to “look as though you’re hiding something” but, surely, such an obvious throwaway that he’s hiding something does not do any good for the suspense factor.

The director tries throughout to permeate the film with the notion of impending violence or suspense he does not quite get there. The acts shown on screen are not cruel enough, not enough relatives die on screen, I wasn’t really made to care for them, the lead up was not happy enough. Thus, if you’re after some excitement (shame on you…) then I suggest the Killing Fields about the Cambodian massacres. But if you want to learn a little about what happened in Rwanda, and finally tell the difference between Hutu’s and Tsutsi’s then Hotel Rwanda is a good way to spend two hours doing that. Because you’re bound to spend far longer arguing with someone about whether it was the Hutus who killed the Tsutsi’s or the Tsutsi’s who killed the Hutu’s with someone argumentative (like me) somewhere down the track.

Arbitrary Rating: 6.5/10

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Review: Aida by Verdi

Date: 17 July 2012
Venue: Sydney Opera House
Director: Graeme Murphy

I was, again, invited by my colleague whom we shall call “A” to a night at the opera last night. Opera Australia’s Aida was on. I believe tickets are in the region of $100 – $300. Enough with the details.

Aida is an Ethiopian princess in the servitude of the Pharaoh’s daughter. She loves Rademes, an egyptian general who leads the Egyptian armies against the Ethiopian army. Rademes loves her. The pharaoh’s daughter love’s Ramones. And so on, you can probably guess what happens.

As with all opera they sing their words. These were sung in Italian, better than singing in English, but always slightly unnerving, still.

The production was grand and lavish, liberal lashings of gold and silver with clever use of the opera projectors to really sell the Egyptian theme of the day. Indeed, the chorus was made up of over 50 people with numerous costume changes from courtier, to soldier, to slave. There were professional ballet dancers for the dancing sections which were probably the best part. The dancing made up for the cardboard set, this has got to do with finances, the limitations of the drama theatre of the opera house, or the Australian identification with practicality above all. In any case, the quality of some of the cardboard was questionable, and suspension of disbelief very valuable; at times I felt like I was at a school production. Further I could not stand the loose plastic film on the moat, but I was sitting in an inconvenient seat where inconvenience begets nagging. My final nag therefore was that the chorus thought they could hide amongst each other, and they put in weak dramatic performances.

The singing performances were polished. The soprano (Aida) was best, clear and powerful, her voice like forceful thrusts of the sabre. The weakest was the mezzo-soprano, though she had the lower range she had some difficulty overcoming the accompaniment. However, if it is of any consolation, she was beautiful, as an Egyptian princess should be. The baritone and Tenor earn a pass from me.

At the beginning of the third act a ballet dancer swims along the Nile, she is partly nude, you can see her breasts. I thought you would like to know that. You could see them for the full 3 minutes she was dancing. They were small, but well tensed – as could be expected of a lithe dancer. It didn’t distract from the cardboard palm tree with bananas, but good effort Mr. Murphy.

One could go on about the tiny flaws in the production like Styrofoam angels wings and plastic capes but we can just put that down to the age and place we live in. The important thing is the scale and intent of the production was grand, and to a fair degree this was achieved. When the chorus launched into “Glory to Egypt” I certainly did feel something, like this was as good as it was going to get, and it was. But it was good enough. The rest of the opera was Verdi wrapping wrapping wrapping it up by making star crossed lovers do their thing, in another 1.2 hours plus 20 minute interval. You could almost hear the tedium in the voices. Oh how I bemoan the need for closure sometimes! But surviving is its own achievement.

Rating: 7.5/10

On a closing note, my friend A sat next to Jonathan Biggins of Travesties fame and neglected to even say hi to the dear gentleman and his daughter.

And to the two pretty ladies in row C near the left a most warm hello and if we ever do meet again, I shall let you know.

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The last weblog

I always think of things to write when I am not writing. I always want to start blogs but neither finish nor continue them. I never seem to know how much of the real person to put in a blog. It’s a diary and it is meant to be truthful, but it is also public, and a face one shows to the public should not be too truthful – for reason you well know.

Even this strand of thinking is dangerous, too truthful. You, the reader are too smart for your own good. You should be shot. I allow you three questions only, of my true nature, my genesis, my character – if you will. And I will choose those questions.

Of what state are you?

Of shanghai, when it was poor. No longer the whore of the orient (of the whores I know little), but more the richest cousin from a poorer district. The berlin wall had not yet fallen, but after old Mao had assumed the form of paraffin.

Your calling?

I will eat and drink and shit and dream of women (young ones) and stories and a place that is anywhere but here. I will write the phantasms down and call it a story and try to peddle it to needed parasites. If I cannot eat (and as a consequence cannot shit) then I will be a parasite myself, but what of it?

Your Modus Operandi?

Is that latin? Tempted to write: As above; but to give a more verbose answer my MO, if I may call it that, is no more than to live like a spoilt white child of my generation. I know well I am yellow, but I think like a white man with a paint brush after a sleepless night under the stars (drugged). The white man hath taken me into his bosom and his woman hath shared with me his milk, partly mixed with the historical death of yellow black red and coffee coloured men. So much for colonialism. So much for history. Unfortunately I had no hand in it as it was then, but I only have a hand in what is now.

For those of you who would think I am adopted I ask you to be more metaphorical. No, it’s bullshit. I wasn’t adopted. I’m an immigrant, but just read Dickens and Dostoevski at a young age, and I haven’t read the Romance of the three kingdoms even until now. I admit I did read Mishima when I was a teenager, but, as they say, first cut is the deepest. I still have no idea what’s going on in Romance of the Three Kingdoms and a chinaman at once looks familiar to me, yet at once if he should open his mouth he is distant. I can scrawl the writing (poorly) and hear the intonations of different regions almost like a native but when I am drugged and write I prefer nothing more than the Queen’s tongue and when I read like I am drugged I prefer nothing more than an American Novel. Yes sometimes it is neither here nor there, and I might ask am I some hobgoblin? I wonder if it were better for my sake that mirrors never existed, for then I would not know my form, but sooner or later the self-realisation will get to one and if it does not kill you then I can’t really say it makes you stronger. Ignorance is strength, dumb brute strength; if only the knowers of knowledge did not cut themselves down with the clear forethought of the banal futility of all their actions!

I don’t think I have answered your question good lady/sir. Modus operandi. Try hard, try very very hard. You can do anything. Is that out of place in this world? Does that make me a try hard? No. Because I’m not trying that hard yet. But piss on that because you can’t really care what people think.

Put that through a blender, and tada you will have your answer. If you can’t do that then you can do doodley-squat.

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Fuck. I really do go on.

So much for that. This is my last blog. I keep starting blogs and not finishing them. I will be both real and fictional. Pinch of salt, ladies and gentleman.

I might mention, I am embarking on a writing career, if you didn’t catch that already.

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