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Schooless and jobfree – Part 1

I have a new camera! I’ve decided to name it Hugh. I wasn’t paying tribute to Huge Jackman or something, but I tend to name my things the first name that I think of. Hugh fits! Hugh lives in a long stripey zebra sock.

View from my house in old-town Ang Mo Kio

The view from the window of my old house : Huey’s first landscape shot. Good job! This is the new view from my new window.

View from Hillbrooks

I’ve been moving house, it’s my favourite hobby. I used to be in the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio heart, and now I’m somewhere in the  Bukit Batok ear of Singapore. It’s not a half bad analogy. Orchard, as the stomach, digests all the retail and investments and tourism; Shenton Way, Clarke Quay – the digestive tract and liver. Indispensable, and collectively congested. Bukit Timah? Maybe the face of Singapore. Wealthier citizens and larger, more opulent houses, sort of like how you put make up on a face.

Travelling from the ear of Singapore is hard, and I’ve been complaining to all my tuition students about the commute from my house to theirs. Also, I’ve been insisting that my friends come up to my place, instead of me going down to the city area, for meet ups. Hugh and I have been meeting up with lots of people.

Mature folks :

Camp at SAFTI. Rabid mosquitoes.

More maturity:

Red Land!!!

No maturity: 

Kumar, Kumar, Kumar, Tong Kai, Jeevan acting cool, and Tong Kai. Ian and Gangwei were mature so they didn't make it into this photo.

The Weeny Tadpole. What do tadpoles grow into?

Littlebro, can you share your toy with bigbro? You're reading after all.

Hoi!

I’m learning German, so from now on I’ll randomly insert Deutsch in an effort to retain the new language. Ten days (Zehn Tag) till I leave! It’s been forever and a day since I left Malaysia for well and good and came back to Singapore, but in three years (drei Jahre), three years minus two days later, I’ll be leaving Singapore for the United States. I’m still vacillating somewhere around mid June (Juni), when I just found out that I actually would be going off. As in, off. To the land of liberty, guns, booze, bears, and everything inside and outside and in between. I’m still waiting for it to hit me that I’m going off so that I can start crying or jumping or something like that. My tear ducts have never been very cooperative… I cry when I’m not supposed to, like when I’m laughing about something retarded MJ has said.

Wilntyt : How are winters in the US going to be like?

MJ : Like, cold. The woman at the embassy said I’d be snowed in up to my chest!

Elven : But, lemme tell you, the air is damn sex!

MJ : Yeah, like you breathe in –whooo- and then you start orgasming! Like you imagine when it starts snowing and people everywhere start orgasming –

I laughed so much I that I had to use two hands (zwei Hand) to wipe my tears away. The lot of us from 3N (Shaunee, and wife 1 and 6 and Wilny) and an outsider (Au:slander) from 3O, Shu, visited my house (mein Haus), which is miles from the middle of nowhere. You see it’s at one end of the train station (der bahnoff!) and then, depending on a variety of factors, such as the stock market, the weather and my astrological signs, it’s another 20 minutes to an hour for the bus to get to my house.

This is when we had lunch at a restaurant. Hugh has a bit of an inferiority complex, you see how he focused especially on Shu’s huge ass camera? His screen displayed an erroneous message when I first switched him on : ‘memory card error. Format memory card : yes/no?’ Er… It took a few restarts before he could look at Shu’s camera in the eye without shorting out. Well Hughie, I’m afraid that size does matter where cameras are concerned, but I’m perfectly happy with you! If I had one the size of Shu’s, I’d probably leave you at home, and it’s better to be small and useful than be big and unused.

We got to my house after, and my houses all tend to be slack palaces. I have loads of innocent furniture, but that bean bag is just gobbling MJ up.

Das ist mein Raja! Ich liebe ihm.

So I checked back in a day (last photo), and yeah, Raja’s all that’s left.

The Tan family, Mom, Angel and Adora

Juxtaposition of heights. Love from the '95ers. Tomato Pokeball and Pikachu cheese.The Tan family, Mom, Angel and Adora

  This is Bio RA.


A Song of Fire and Ice, Part II : The Stags and the Dragons

Spoilers for Game of Thrones TV series and A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy series below.

HBO’s Game of Thrones series is a marvel. It does not quite compare to the book, but the truth is that the book and the show have become quite seperate, and to criticize the TV series for ‘disappointing’ my expectations is to do HBO an injustice. We are already at episode 6, and each episode just gets better and better – the games of power, the farce of justice at Eyrie, the bloody ceremonies at Vaes Dothrak – the pace is picking up, and we’re being swept along!

The Baratheons : youngest of the Great Houses

The Baratheons are a powerful but reckless house given to extremeties of character. Robert Baratheon, first of his name, Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and Usurper of the Targaryens’ throne, once “muscled like maiden’s fantasy”, now a fat and ineffective man, is the eldest son of Stefford Baratheon. His second brother, Stannis Baratheon (who does not appear yet), is a strict and puritan man who detests immorality and passion of any sort, while Renly Baratheon, about eleven-or-so years younger than Robert, is a vain, handsome, and powerful man.

Mark Addy does a wonderfully fat, blustering king Robert. During his fifteen years of kingship, Robert’s careless indulgence has squandered whatever wealth and power the Targaryens once had. The Iron Throne is severely in debt, and Robert is cornered by his dependence on the Lannisters’ wealth. Meanwhile, Robert has never let go of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s younger sister and Robert’s only love; his inability to move on has destroyed Robert’s marriage to Cersei and made him unreasonably vengeful towards the surviving Targaryens. The TV series makes prominent Lyanna’s ghost during a heart-to-heart chat between king and queen in episode 5, that never appears in the book. “What harm could Lyanna Stark’s ghost do to us, that we haven’t done to each other a hundred times over?” Cersei asks Robert mockingly. In the book, it is our honourable Ned Stark who asks Cersei why she hates Robert so, and she replies,

“The night of our wedding feast, the first time we shared a bed, he called me by your sister’s name. He was on top of me, in me, stinking of wine, and he whispered, Lyanna.”Cersei Lannister.

Like all things GRRM, character relationships are more intricate than they seem, and thus it is that the relationship between the Baratheons and the Targaryens goes deeper than that of past and present rulers – but to talk of the Targaryens is to talk of the Targaryens, the Starks, the Lannisters and the Baratheons all at once; and here, I think, is where the TV series lacks sufficient explanation. I will try to sort things out.

 

 

The Game of Thrones emblem includes the sigils of the dragon, the direwolf, the lion and the stag, for the whole war begins with them. Fifteen years before the Game of Thrones, the last Targaryen King was Aerys Targaryen, and his son was prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Jaime Lannister, the youngest ever knight in the Kingsguard, was a sworn protector of Aerys. Cersei Lannister was betrothed to, and fell in love with, Rhaegar; however, Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark loved one another while Robert Baratheon’s affection for Lyanna was unrequited. When Robert eventually declared war against King Aerys, the Starks were his strongest ally. Mad with jealousy, Robert killed Rhaegar, but Lyanna died during the battle, too. Jaime Lannister slew his own king and from then on was called the Kingslayer. Jaime handed the throne to Ned Stark who handed it to Robert, because neither of them wanted to rule. Cersei was wed to Robert by her father, Tywin Lannister; Jaime Lannister was pardoned by Robert and made part of Robert’s Kingsguard.

In the game of thrones, you win or you die.

Of the Targaryens who survived the sack of Kings Landing, there were only Viserys and Daenerys, Rhaegar’s younger brother and sister. These two have since grown up in the Eastern Continent of Essos, far away from the Seven Kingdoms, and it is the remaining Targaryen royalty that King Robert now feels threatened by.

And so we are introduced to Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen, last of the Dragons.

The Targaryens sigil is a three headed dragon, and their words are Fire and Blood. The Dragon Kings are a great house, and a mad house. They have ruled for millenia, always marrying brother to sister to keep their lines pure, and from this continuous incest stems their unchecked violence, paranoia and megalomania.

“I’d let (Khal Drogo’s) whole Khalasar fuck you if need be, sweet sister, all forty thousand men, and their horses too, if that was what it took to get me my army.” – Viserys Targaryen to his younger sister, Daenerys.

Played by Harry Lloyd and Emilia Clarke respectively, both Viserys and Daenerys are perfectly as I imagined – except that they forgot to dye their eyebrows silver as well, but that is inconsequential. Viserys’s single minded obsession with raising an army and retake the Iron Throne make him a sick, unlovable character, but Harry Lloyd portrays Viserys’s pitiful, ruthless desperation effortlessly and milks Viserys’s insanity for all it is worth. I think Viserys’s pre-death scene was made incredibly memorable by Lloyd’s half drunken, half fey expression, movement and speech.

Khal Drogo and Khaleesi Daenerys

Daenerys was sold to the great Dothraki warrior, Khal Drogo, by her brother, so that that Viserys might have the Khal’s army to invade the Seven Kingdoms with. With a khalasar (a nomadic kingdom) of a hundred thousand people, and so rich even his slaves wore collars made of gold, Drogo was the most powerful Khal of the Dothraki lands. His warrior’s braid had never been cut, to signify that Drogo had never been defeated in battle.

My version of Khal Drogo was darker, and with an actual braid. Otherwise, yes. The guttural Dothraki language, the size and the quiet ferociousness, it’s all there. Khal Drogo (Jason Mamoa) and his bloodriders are awesome.


A Song of Ice and Fire, Part I : Of Wolves and Lions

 

 “…Characters so venemous they could eat the Borgias.”

 – The Guardian review for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
 

House Lannister. "The gold of Casterly Rock and the Golden Tooth has made them the wealthiest of the Great Houses."

I couldn’t say it any better. Martin tells his story by making you a king, a scullery maid, a eunuch, a cripple, a kingslayer, a bastard, a horselord’s slut, a queen, a traitor, a runaway, a knight, and that doesn’t even cover half of his splendid cast. Nobody is good or bad, they are only completely, painfully real, desperate to survive – and to survive, they shy from nothing. It isn’t gratuitous, it’s necessary. Black magic, resurrection, slavery, necrophilia, bestiality, twincest, fatricide, cannibalism, you name it, they’ve done it, to say nothing of murder, manipulation and deception. With five kings waging war for power and an apocalyptic decade-long winter on the horizon, Martin’s story stops at nothing to pull one entirely into the continents of Essos and Westeros.

So when HBO launched a TV adaptation of Ice and Fire, named the series Game of Thrones after the first novel in the series, I was quite convinced that no TV show could ever do justice to Martin’s epic fantasy –  Harry Potter was rather painful and the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, while excellent, deviated from the book by a substantial margin. Misgivings aside, I was still eager to see what HBO could come up with.

The clockwork style opening sequence reminds me strongly of Neil Gaiman and his world-beyond-the-wall, which is an odd, absurd and enjoyable mix of magic, technology and mythology. I love the tilting perspective as the camera sweeps over the map of Westeros and the way each actor’s name is shown with the sigil of his character. After all, to say that Martin did put a lot of effort into making each house distinct is a gross understatement…

 The carousel-ish ‘growth’ of towers and fortresses make each place look very much like gears and cogs of a monstrously sophisticated lego set. I’m quite divided over this, because while the reference to construction and puppetry is on its own original and very well done, I thought it lacked the graphic and visceral style of Ice and Fire.

 

The first scene of Winter beyond the wall was disappointing. I was looking forward to the bone numbing chill, the silent, graceful walkers, a duel between the Others and the men of the Nightwatch. The white walkers were snarling goblin rather than the silent, graceful wraiths I’d hoped for, and the entire chase felt rather cobbled. This was one of those filmed-for-the-sake-of-following-the-book scenes that didn’t add much to the TV series. It wasn’t a promising start. 

 

Benjen Stark, younger brother of Eddard Stark, First Ranger of the Nightwatch

Things pick up once we shift to Winterfell, the fortress in the North. The Starks were Kings of Winter for thousands of years, until they chose not to fight Aegon the Dragon King of Valyria, and swore fealty to House Targaryen.

Winter is coming. The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.

Ned Stark (Sean Bean), Warden in the North and Catelyn Tully (Michelle Fairley), his wife, are very well played. Their children are Robb (Richard Maden),  Brandon (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington). I imagined Ned with a longer and thinner face, but Sean Bean’s sombre demeanour is otherwise very becoming. I thought Robb Stark should have had a more jovial and commanding presence. Benjen Stark has the strongest likeness to my imagination – hard boiled, battle-worn, long faced. Thumbs up to the Stark Household.  

  Hear Me Roar!   

Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer

Enter the Lannisters and their golden pride. Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, the handsomest man in the Seven Kingdoms, the youngest knight ever in the royal Kingsguard, insolent, gorgeous, admired. Cersei Lannister, Jaime’s older twin, queen of the Seven Kingdoms and famous for her beauty and despised for her treachery. Are they physically irresistable? You decide. For all that my fellow fan and I complained incessantly about the Lannister twins’ looks, we agreed on one thing – Jaime’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)  likeable-badass charm is very effective. Cersei (Lena Hadley) starts a little ‘off’ but then slides nicely into her roll. I’m looking forward to more of her poisonous scheming. 

  

 

 

Cersei Lannister, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms

“I’ll kill (your husband King Robert to get you). The singers can make a ballad about it – The war for Cersei’s cunt, they’ll call it.” – Ser Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, to Cersei Lannister, his twin sister.

 

The most perfectly played character by far is Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), an unloved blemish in the otherwiseperfect Lannister family. The lecherous, ribald dwarf is an ugly, stunted dwarf whose deformity has been made worse by constant comparison to his beautiful and powerful elder siblings, yet there is (thankfully) none of the tiresome angst and vulnerability that usually accompany such unfortunate characters. A lifetime of ridicule has made Tyrion discerning, sharp tongued and shameless; like his brother Jaime, he has a penchant for morbid and licentious humour. 

Tyrion Lannisters, known also as the Half-man

  

 

“(If I took the Black I’d have to) go celibate; the whores would go begging from Dorne to Casterly Rock! No, I just want to stand on the wall and piss off the edge of the world.”-Tyrion Lannister’s reply with regards to wanting to visit the Nightwatch


Women’s literature – Passing Under Heaven

I have a prejudice against what I call “women-life-stories” – the kind of book that narrates the life story of a girl, because I am too impatient for the slow, often ruminative style of sharing and reflection that the recount of a woman’s life almost necessarily entails. Therefore, I nearly passed this book over upon reading the blurb :

Married at sixteen; divorced at nineteen; executed at twenty six.

In the twilight years of the Tang Dynasty, a young girl is given up by her mother and orphaned before she is five years old, yet rises to become one of the most famous and celebrated women of her age…”

I stopped there, thinking it was another of those stories celebrating the indomitable feminine spirit (I’ve had enough of sub-par determined-woman-finds-meaning-in-life books) and would have completely passed it by if I hadn’t suddenly recalled how much I enjoyed Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha“. Just as Arthur Golden had extensive exposure to Japanese culture, so was Justin Hill familiar with Chinese culture, having lived in China for several years (or so I researched)…I decided to give Passing Under Heaven a try.

I was beguiled by Hill’s simple, flowing prose. This is not a book that seizes your imagination and yanks you along at breakneck pace, but the ephemeral quality of it is equally entrancing. There is none of the dense metaphors and indulgent description I was cynically expecting. Instead, Hill moves the reader’s attention from the harsh life of women to the culture of the Tang dynasty with elegance. Little Hope, the only daughter of Concubine Hwa, is orphaned at seven and adopted into another family as Little Flower. As a woman she is named Lily, and pon being sold as a concubine to Minister Li, she becomes Mistress Yu. Minister Li has to juggle his grandmother’s dislike for concubines, his own wife, as well as Lily’s affections at once, while Lily, craving for purpose and excitement, is stifled by the docility and submission expected from women in the Tang dynasty. The tormented love between Minister Li and Lily is as classic a symbol in the Tang Dynasty as Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s love is in the Victorian Era.

From The Manual For Instructing Women.

To be his.

To serve him.

To lie in his arms at night.

To fold his garments.

To bring him his food.

To pour his tea.

To heal his headaches.

To obey his commands.

To obey the commands of his mother.

To test the flavour of a dish or the heat of the wine.

To care for him in his old age.

These will be your joys in life.

The relationship between Minister Li and Concubine Lily soon sours terribly, and while Lily manages to leave the minister, neither she nor Minister Li truly get over their love. Lily becomes both a notorious seductress and a skilled poetess before eventually being punished for her crimes. More than a love story, Passing Under Heaven is a understated yet powerful book about the society of China a thousand years ago. The details on culture and era were believable and evocative; on the whole, the book was thoroughly enjoyable. For the Guardian review, see here.


Detective fiction – Sparkling Cyanide (Remembered Death)

I have mixed thoughts on Sparkling Cyanide. Rosemary Barton, a spoiled and beautiful heiress, was fatally poisoned at her own birthday party. For want of conclusive evidence suggesting otherwise, the case was closed as “suicide”. However, less than a year after Rosemary’s death, her husband, George Barton, receives anonymous letters indicating that Rosemary was a victim of murder. George takes it upon himself to re-investigate the circumstances of Rosemary’s alleged suicide. The witnesses of Rosemary’s death, each a potential murderer in the reader’s eyes, take turns to contemplate their opinions of, and relationships with, the late Rosemary.

These characters’ monologues make the strongest case for Sparkling Cyanide; they are by turns entertaining and sobering, and each has an intriguing mix of detective reasoning and human psychology. Neither a Hercule Poirot nor a Miss Marple mystery, the detective of this story is Colonel Johnnie Race, introduced mid-book as one who is “not good at small talk and might indeed have posed as the model of a strong silent man so beloved by an earlier generation of novelists.” Race is very likeable, calm and ineffable like Christie’s detectives are, with a bit of a paranoid, “Alastor Mad-Eye Moody” (JK Rowling’s Harry Potter) reputation. 

Alongside the murder mystery is a dexterous narration of love in its various forms. Marriage and (in)fidelity are recurrents motive for each suspect and their personal lives are well depicted without overshadowing the main plot. Of George brooding over Rosemary’s extra marital affair, Christie writes :

“He’d known quick enough, sensed the difference in her. The rising excitement, the added beauty, the whole glowing radiance.”

A foil to the frivolous and selfish Rosemary is Alexandra Farraday, intelligent but awkward, outwardly reserved but inwardly passionate.

“From the day of their marriage she had realized that he did not love her in the same way as she loved him…That power of loving was her own unhappy heritage. To care with a desperation, an intensity that was, she knew, unusual among women! She would have died for him willingly; she was ready to lie for him, scheme with him, suffer for him! Instead she accepted with pride and reserve the place he wanted her to fill. He wanted her co-operation, her sympathy, her active and intellectual help. He wanted of her, not her heart, but her brains, and those material advantages with birth had given her. One thing she would never do, embarrass him by the expression of a devotion to which he could make no adequate return…(even after knowing of his affair), never for one minute did Sandra consider leaving him. The idea never even came to her. She was his, body and soul, to take or discard. He was her life, her existence. Love burned in her with a medieval force.”

Thumbs up also for Christie’s moments of dry humour, which avoid the trap of exasperating readers. In portraying a constantly distracted, extremely talkative aunt who has “stiffened into a pronouced spinsterhood”, Christie explains her convulated and confusing thoughts : “Aunt Lucilla’s reasoning was always crystal clear to herself.”

Since the novel is about romantic love, I also like the touch of closure the two youngest protagonists, Anthony and Iris, bring when they fall for each other and discuss their marriage at the end of the book :

“All that (murder) for money! […] Anthony – I don’t think I like my money very much. ” 

“All right, sweet – we’ll do something noble with it if you like. I’ve got enough money to live on – and to keep a wife in reasonable comfort. We’ll give it all away if you like – endow homes for children, or provide free tobaccol for old men, or – how about a campaign for serving better coffee all over England?”

“I shall keep a little,” said Iris. “So that if I ever wanted to, I could be grand and walk out and leave you.”

“I don’t think, Iris, that that is the right spirit to enter upon married life.”

Agatha Christie captures a memorable cast of narrators and suspects, but the resolution fails to impress. The climax of the book, if well dramatized, is unsurprising. The explanation of the murder itself is thoroughly hurried through, the motive is thin and the murderer’s modus-operandi not ingenious enough after the suspense of the novel. For someone who was stumped by the possibilities and eager for the murderer to be revealed, I was quite disappointed. Looking back, although Sparkling Cyanide seems like one of those books which have been “written into a corner”, it still is a very worthwhile read.



4th March

From now on 4th March shall always have a special significance to me, not just as the day of my Results Release but the day of flooding of encouragement, prayer, support, luck, well wishes etc etc from friends and family! Thank you all for everything, guys, I would have nothing and be nowhere without all of you.

I’d gone back to school early to pay my library fines – or risk having my results witheld, the sheer absurdity of it! Nevertheless I paid up the whole 1/5 of a dollar and banged out a bit of Nightwish on the off-key piano beside the amphitheatre. The school’s changed a lot in the past three months. New project rooms by the library, ceilings scraped and new floors put in, a covered walkway from the MRT station to the school gate, which was very useful indeed because I alighted into a rainstorm. There was a riotous whole cohort reunion in the canteen; incidentally, thank goodness our canteen is just ‘the canteen’, not fancy-named after a famous someone-or-other. I went in school uniform and explained to my batchmates that I was anticipating having to retain, which was partly true. For the larger part, though, I wanted the priceless feeling of youth again. While it was nice to see the girls mostly dressed up and the guys mostly trimmed down to bald-tan-buff army proportions…they all looked so mature and too ready to grow up. It’s not easy to earn money doing something you like…!

A banner had been strung up, proclaiming our batch’s “Very Fine” results, which we analysed for tone and connotations, and pessimistically took as a euphemism – an ill omen, given the circumstances. We then met our biology teacher who revealed that this year’s performance for biology had taken a turn for the worse…but she stopped there. I don’t know how in the name of Dandenong Sasafras Woolloowoolloo I could have kept mum about my students’ results when they’re all jittery and bugging me nonstop like we were.

What a very specialized set of skills teachers have to pick up.

The principals were all gathered, the teachers and parents all there to celebrate/grieve with us, the sheer noise – everyone was excited, and I’d become so numb with tension by then, I was almost relaxed. This stomach-dropping anxiety comes in spurts and leaves my emotions  little coagulated. So – the entire cohort singing the school song, enduring the stats and numbers and comparisons – knowing that they don’t mean anything about our individual reports, I’d forgotten my own trepidation and even when we were lining up by index number to get our reports I had sort of forgotten what I was suppose to be feeling or anticipating or…Gosh. I kinda just took the damn piece of paper and saw my grades and my teacher hugged me and I felt vaguely relieved. Then I sort of chanted my thanks and proceeded with the obligatory round of hi 5-ving and congratulations.

Thank God for everything. It feels stranged that having cut myself short of dreaming about today so many times, I finally sailed past the event without so much as a whoop. What’s more – for once, just for once, I’d like to know what I’m actually going to be doing by the end of this year. The endless long sickening wait for results and universities and scholarships is wearing me thin! Thin as spidersilk and frayed like a cobweb. I don’t even know which country I’ll be end up being in. So I give myself odd projects to do, though I used to want to slack relentlessly. But pokemon and Fire Emblem don’t satisfy me anymore. I suppose life’s like that, and in the meantime, I’ve found more to live for, more to worry about, more to fight for.


-Bankai!-
It’s my life, yeah it’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just wanna live while I’m alive

– A Bleach AMV to It’s My Life, by Bon Jovi.