Saturday, December 19, 2009

Paradise Falls - Adventure is Out There

Adventure. What a wonderful word. Adventure is often associated with travel, a journey, although that need not necessarily be so. And journeys are often seen as a metaphor for growth, for life.

I'm revisiting Up! (see older post) because this film hits me at so many levels. And because it's the year end, when most human beings take a turn towards being more thoughtful and reflective.

This time, I'm focusing on one of the non-human characters in the film. Paradise Falls. Nestled deep within, and at the top of the Lost World.The real inspiration for Paradise Falls is the Angel Falls in Venezuela. It's nearly a thousand meters of unbroken free-fall, and thanks to the great height, much of the water never reaches the ground as part of a stream. Instead, it's vaporised, carried away by the winds before it reaches the base, and according to Wikipedia, the mist can be felt "a mile away".

My earliest memory of the Angel Falls is a photo, in an old children's encyclopedia (Lands & Peoples, from Grolier ..... I think). The photo, in black and white, features the falls in portrait mode, with a small aircraft flying in front of it. I've done a search on google images for this picture, but no luck finding it yet.

More recently, the Angel Falls was featured in the Freshwater segment of David Attenborough's incredible documentary series, "Planet Earth". The camera follows the streams that flow atop Auyantepui, over the edge, then turns backwards so we see more and more of the falls as the camera continues it's flight path away from the tepui. Throughout the series, Attenborough presents Earth as a system that is built up around and driven by the flow of energy, a system made up of living things and the physical aspects of the planet, and fed by the solar radiation it receives. Having this at the back of one's mind makes the viewing of the camera work, of the water plunging down through open space in the bright sunlight all the more exhilarating. That's a huge amount of potential and kinetic energy at work there.

In an enjoyable blog post by Eric Salituro (at, the writer points out that when studying a map, you'll notice that the falls clearly drain into a river at the base (Kerep), but strangely, there is no corresponding stream at the top of the Tepui. The water supplying the falls is the result of moisture from the clouds that enshroud the tepui, and there is well enough of it to generate it's spectacular result.
There's so much to learn, to discover, to see, to experience, to stir the heart. Adventure is out there. And inside.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Sandman - King of Dreams

Picked up this book (hardcover) by Alisa Kwitney from the National Library (call reference 741.5-973). It's something of a broad sweep of Gaiman's work on the monthly series, which ran from 1988 till 1996, and contains cover art, pages, quotes and a little bit of "behind the scenes" and "did you know" type information in the text.

Kwitney writes well. Good amount of wit, and a published author herself, she was one of several assistant editors at Vertigo who worked closely with Gaiman on the title. In Gaiman's introduction, he mentions that Kwitney's father is Robert Sheckley, an author of short sci-fi stories I remember enjoying greatly. Sheckley's stories had all the necessary trappings of sci-fi, but were infused with a relaxed style of intelligent humor, and the stories I remember best had a compelling build up of a problem that seemed impossible to solve, and then a clever resolution right at the end. I've not seen Sheckley's collection in the book stores in ages, but if you do find a copy, it'll be worth your while to pick one up. (and then mail to me as a gift)

Reading Kwitney's "King of Dreams" reminds me of how wonderfully enjoyable the sandman run was. I'm picking up new insights I missed in earlier reads - like when Morpheus dismisses Lyta Hall carelessly (after dismissing her "ghost" of a husband - the odd character Kirby did a few issues of) her posture is one of giving birth - and in this case, it's the foreshadowed birth not just of Daniel, but also a hatred that would lead her to the Furies in "the Kindly Ones".

I also found a quote by Death that I've been looking for. I thought I read it in one of the "Books of Magic", but here it was, in the one issue story "Facade":
When the first living thing existed, I was there, waiting.
When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished.
I'll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.
Another nice snippet of info was that one of Gaiman's early proposals to DC was to work on the Phantom Stranger, which was turned down and this resulted in the proposal for Sandman instead. My head is buzzing at what Gaiman was planning for Phantom Stranger - my first serious attempt at comic collecting began with the Phantom Stranger (by David Micheline), unfortunately just before the series was to be cancelled. The back up feature in that book was Black Orchid - which interestingly was the first work Gaiman (with Dave McKean) did for DC. While we're on the topic of the Phantom Stranger - look up Moore's take on the Stranger's origin.

This would be a good time to pen down a few "Top" Lists:

Favourite Individual Stories:
1-Midsummer Night's Dream
2-The Sound of Her Wings
3-Three Septembers and a January

Favourite Story Arcs:
1-Season of Mists
2-World's End
3-The Wake

Favourite Spin-Offs:
1-Death - the High Cost of Living
2-The Dream Hunters (illustrated version by Charles Vess)
3-Death - the Time of Your Life

I'm closing this post with a quote from Destruction, in a story within a story within a story (lost count of the recursiveness) - Petrefax's tale of the Necropolis Litharge tale from the inn at World's End. (which nicely recalls Douglas Adam's Restaurant at the End of the Universe)
It's important to have places like this. Once the spirit's flown and the spark of life has gone, then the rituals of farewell are needed. All the rituals we go through to help us say goodbye. You HAVE to say goodbye.
This quote makes me think of Departures. And on an almost cold december night in Singapore, with the ground soaked and the braddell insects singing over the drone of distant traffic on wet roads, this is perhaps a very appropriate thought.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Twenty Years have passed, Boy!

Twenty years have passed, Boy
But the memory still warms me
Wild Flowers in a Mason Jar

A couple of months ago, I received my HP 20 year long service certificate. Twenty years ago, I'd just left Singapore Airlines, where I had an Engineering job and had been having a good time cavorting around the aircraft hanger and within the aircraft airframes. I was about to start a new career, in systems support for business mini-computers. The internet was just a research thing back then, but we did have a connection and got a lot of joy from the text based, terminal based apps of the day. This was well before Andreessen & Bina created Mosaic, the browser that would later become Netscape, the browser that would mark the start of the consumerisation of the internet.

The Smell of Rain......
and the Warm Earth in his Hands....

JenMei, now just starting her second year in Stanford, was born 20 years ago.
We were driving a dark metallic grey Honda Quintet back then.
Home was a 2 bedroom Bayshore Park apartment for which we were heavily (but in retrospect, thankfully), in debt.
My home PC was a IBM PC XT Clone with green monitor and an add-on mouse that required a special ISA card (think jumpers, IRQs, I/O addresses). I remember buying the mouse specifically to try out Win2.x. All the other DOS apps I was using had little need of a mouse.

...his face was mirrored in the window
And his reflection flew across the moonlit land

The Song of the Month (which is a rather odd naming convention, as I've not been very monthly about my song posts) is John Denver's "Wild Flowers in a Mason Jar", from his "Some Days are Diamonds" album. There are many great lines in the song. But what I like best about it is how it builds images of a journey, and a look back to simpler times.

Were those really simpler times, 20 years ago? George Bush the Elder was president of the US, Gorbachev was leading the Soviet Union, Margaret Thatcher was PM of the UK, Corazon Aquino was president of the Phillipines, and Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister of Singapore. The Soviets were pulling out of Afganistan, fleeing fighters and weapons that were later turned on the providers of those very weapons. Salman Rushdie was hiding to save his life. Exxon Valdez committed major environmental carnage against the Alaskan coast. Solidarity joined in the Polish Elections and the country saw a non-Communist become the elected Prime Minister. Massacre in Tiananmen Square. Ayatollah Khomeini moved to the next world. Tim Burton's version of Batman hit the cinemas, with the oddly cast Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne. Aung San Suu Kyi began her house arrest that carries on till this day. Nelson Mandela's party took part in elections in South Africa, signalling the last days of Apartheid. And .........Matt Groening's "The Simpsons" premiered on Fox.

And so much has happened since then. We've said goodbye to lots of people who have left the physical world. We live in a different place. Our thinking has expanded & broadened. There's bigger geographic distances between family members. We've visited many new places and learnt new things. We have grown.
Twenty years have passed, Boy
But the memory still warms me

Wild Flowers in a Mason Jar

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Making my spirits go UP!

I have a new all time favourite movie.
How does Pixar keep coming up with films filled with heart, wisdom, fun, pathos, imagination and adventure?

UP! is a masterpiece.

The childhood dreaming of Carl and Ellie brought to mind Randy Pausch's last lecture.
The land around Paradise Falls made me think of Conan Doyle's, Edgar Rice Burroughs' & Jules Verne's respective Lost Worlds.
The little short before the main film was a lovely look at how some partners life gives us are partners that bring us pain, but it is still possible to love and to be faithful.
The colors thrown against the wall of the little girl's room, from the light coming through the balloons, rising up to the ceiling were spectacular.
The blueness of the sky, the little house against it and the balloons like a giant heart held by many, many strings.
The badges wanted not for themselves, but for the hope they gave Russell of seeing his Father again.
The need to let go of what's weighing us down, in order to lift off.
Charles Muntz fails as an adventurer and a person because what he wants is glory for himself. In contrast, Carl is doing what he does first for Ellie and then for Russell, and Russell does what he does in the hope of getting his Father back.
Kevin the bird, whose behaviour in his first scenes in the film harken back to the days of Chuck Jones' RoadRunner.
The dogs so brilliantly portrayed. Their behaviour and mannerisms (and speech!) was ultimately so dog like in devotion and simpleness ..... "squirril!" ...... "point!" .... "master!"
And Dug. He who once wore the cone of shame was the most adorable of all.

When the wonderfully rendered credits roll at the end of the film, you'll catch Brad Bird and John Lasseter listed. Oh happy fault, that both these masters of graphic storytelling had to leave Disney over creative differences (in very separate incidents), and eventually ended up working in the same company, Pixar.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wuthering Heights

Out on the wiley, windy moors
We'd roll and fall in green.
You had a temper like my jealousy
Too hot, too greedy.
How could you leave me,
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you. I loved you, too.

From the Wikipedia entry on Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights:

Written when Bush was just 18, the song's lyrics are based on the story of the novel of the same name. Kate Bush was inspired to write the song by the last ten minutes of the 1970 film version of Wuthering Heights.[1] She then read the book and discovered that she shares her birthday (July 30) with Emily Brontë. Bush reportedly wrote the song, for her album The Kick Inside, within the space of just a few hours late at night, looking to the moon through her open bedroom window for inspiration.

Lyrically, "Wuthering Heights" borrows liberally from the novel's utterances of its protagonist Catherine Earnshaw, most notably in its chorus, with Bush utilising the famous ghostly phrasing "Let me in! I'm so cold!", as well as in the verses, which reference Catherine's confession to her servant of having "bad dreams in the night."

Musically, this is an amazing song, with Bush's high pitched calling out to Heathcliff, and singing in parts like a wailing ghost. Back when the song was first released and played on Singapore Radio, the lyrics were hard to catch and I had no clue how dark and sinister the lyrics were - the melody and instrumentation were pleasing enough to provide entertainment. That changed 2 years back when I found myself wanting to listen to the song again (no idea what possessed me), and I got hold of a copy, and was stunned to discover that the song was basically a haunting set to music.

Heathcliff, it's me, your Cathy, I've come home. I´m so cold,
let me in-a-your window

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We come in peace for all mankind

Forty years ago, I was a primary two student, eagerly consuming the many commercial tie-ins with the apollo space program that ice-cream companies, children's magazines, biscuit manufacturers, coloring books were speeding in our direction.

Walls, an ice cream company, had the best offering. They sold you a book that had spaces in which you pasted little picture cards. You got a card with each ice-cream lolly (called SkyRay) you bought from them - it was in a little slot in the paper covering. The lolly was cleverly shaped like a futuristic spaceship - in 3 sections - each a different fruit flavor.

Collecting all the cards and filling up the book seemed at that time to be the most important thing in the world. More important than homework, the vietnam war, the difficulties of a young nation ejected from the Malaysian Federation just a few years before, the facing of a pullout of British forces which would have a huge impact on the defence and economy of the island.....

Perhaps there was one thing more important. The landing of the Eagle in the Sea of Tranquility.

July 20th, 1969. The names of 2 heroes forever entered history that day.
"the eagle has landed"

"we came in peace for all mankind"
For a little while, we were not chinese, african, russian, malay, vietnamese, british, american or indian.
Were were not men or women.
Were were not young or old.
We were just a collective mankind, looking together in wonder at this amazing thing happening far away, on a place we could look at on most nights and which featured so prominently in much of our legends and fiction.

It was a truly magical time.

Many years later, an Insurance company ran an advertisement on Singapore TV, using Dick Lee's "Life Story", and featuring a young boy living in the 60s. In one scene, the family is in a darkened room, illuminated only by a black and white TV showing the moon landing. I'd love to get a copy of that advert. It's probably the most enjoyable advertisement I've ever watched, and the moon landing scene is definitely part of the reason.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The New Frontier

Are we up to the task .. are we equal to the challenge? Or must we sacrifice our future in order to enjoy the present?

That is the question of the New Frontier. That is the choice our nation must make .. between the public interest and private comfort .. between national greatness and national decline .. between the fresh air of progress and the stale, dank atmosphere of "normalcy" .. between determined dedication and creeping mediocrity.

All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we will do. We cannot fail their trust, we cannot fail to try.
On the 15th of July, 1960, a young man accepted the nomination from his party to stand for election against Richard Nixon, in a competition to become the president of the United States of America.

His acceptance speech, which you'll easily find on the web, is often referred to as the "Kennedy New Frontier" speech and is amazingly relevant today.
Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink from that new frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric...
The full text of the speech and the MP3 version are available at the American Rhetoric page here.

I've just finished reading Darwyn Cooke's amazing, marvellous, awesome series, "The New Frontier" collected into a hardcover book that I borrowed from the Singapore National Library (Call Number 741.5973). It's the story of the transition from the superheroes of the golden age to the new world of the superheroes of the silver age. In the backdrop lurk McCarthyism, atomic weapons, racism, the conflicts spawned by the cold war, experimental aircraft that pushed the limits, ethical treatment of women ..... There are soldiers, dinosaurs, aliens from outerspace, monsters, magicians .... what fun! The link with the start of this post is that Cooke's graphic novel's concluding panels paraphrase parts of the Kennedy New Frontier speech to excellent effect.

This is a piece of work you don't want to miss. Cooke's drawing style is perfectly suited to a story that takes place between the end of WW2 till the 60s. His character design for Diana of the Amazons is particularly appealing. The section in which she defends the actions of a group of vietnamese women who have massacred their former captors and torturers (using weapons Diana put within their reach) to a stupified Clark Kent (in his alien persona) is priceless.

Diana: These women have reclaimed their home. And their dignity. I have chosen to train them to survive the coming war. Surely you see the virtue in that.
Clark: You're supposed to set an example! But to allow cold-blooded murder... and then to celebrate.
Diana: What, hand them a smile and a box of flags? Their families, their mates ... their children were murdered before their eyes. This is civil war. I've given them their freedom and a chance for justice .... the American way.

There's a bit more to the exchange, and you can read it yourself. But I love the last panel of this sequence. Diana says with a stern look on her face, "There's the door, spaceman."

Highly recommended. This is a must read.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Robert McNamara ...looking back at the Vietnam War

In an Opinion piece in the NYT Apr 21st 1999, Robert McNamara wrote about how post-mortem discussions with Hanoi revealed that the death toll and economic cost of the vietnam war could have been so much smaller - had each side not made very wrong assumptions about how much punishment or boldness the other side could tolerate, and about how open the opposing sides were to negotiations.

For example, in Vietnam each side miscalculated by repeatedly underestimating the costs and risks its adversary was willing to accept. The failure of the United States to anticipate the almost incredible losses absorbed by Vietnamese Communists, both north and south, is well known. But we learned in our dialogues that the North Vietnamese were prepared to absorb far greater punishment than was ever delivered by the American bombing. Likewise, the Hanoi Government, in a series of disastrous miscalculations made from 1961 to 1965, repeatedly underestimated America's willingness to prosecute the war in the South on the ground, and in the North via the bombing. In Vietnam neither side understood the bottom line of the other with regard to how South Vietnam should be governed, by whom and for how long. Each side, American and Vietnamese, discovered during the course of our dialogues that its former adversary was much more open to negotiations -- to a neutral, coalition government in Saigon -- than was believed at the time.

The point is this: These mutual misjudgments were not preordained by some process of escalation that, as is implied by many who see the Balkans through the prism of Vietnam, was beyond human control. Both the Americans and Vietnamese in the dialogues, who for the first time had access to one another's real intentions at the time, concluded that many opportunities existed along the way for leaders to do what they should have done -- lead! -- rather than ignore the Vietnam crisis in slow motion.

By the time Nixon ordered the withdrawal of US forces from South Vietnam, 3.5 million Vietnamese and 58 thousand Americans had lost their lives. He ends the opinion piece, which calls for the application of lessons from the Vietnam War to the Crisis in the Balkans, with this quote:

It was once famously said that the United States did not have 10 years of experience in Vietnam, but one year of experience 10 times over. Will we say the same about the Balkans?

During his military stint during WW2, during his time with Ford, and later as Secretary of Defence, McNamara applied systems analysis to bring about efficiencies, cost savings and support decision making. The systems approach supported his work well and the success it brought him set him up to trust them enough to apply them to the Vietnam War (source: wikipedia):

McNamara's plan, supported by requests from top U.S. military commanders in Vietnam, led to the commitment of 485,000 troops by the end of 1967 and almost 535,000 by June 30, 1968. The casualty lists mounted as the number of troops and the intensity of fighting escalated. McNamara put in place a statistical strategy for victory in Vietnam. He concluded that there were a limited number of Viet Cong fighters in Vietnam and that a war of attrition would destroy them. He applied metrics (body counts) to determine how close to success his plan was.

With hindsight, it is easy to see that even the best methods and processes for management, when supplied with incorrect data/assumptions, can generate tragic results. McNamara was definitely a brilliant man - a Harvard Associate Professor, President of Ford Motor Company, Secretary of Defence who achieved great things during his lifetime. But the folly of the Vietnam War that he's credited with architecting is the one thing that he will be most remembered for. To his credit, though, he did have a change of heart about how the Vietnam War was being run, and tried to persuade President Johnson to take steps towards ending America's involvement in the war. But things had gone too far .... America's prestige was on the line and perhaps too many in big-business who stood to profit massively from continued hostilities were pushing hard on their lobbyists. His failure to change LBJ's mind led to his resignation and a new job with the World Bank in 1968 where he is credited with shifting the Bank's focus towards poverty reduction.

Robert McNamara passed away on 6 July 2009. The BBC carried this obituary on it's website.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A gift of Naipaul from Books Actually

I discovered my favorite Singapore bookshop while walking around the Amoy Street area during the lunchtime break of a course I attended in mid april this year. The shop is question is one of a row of restored shop houses along Ann Siang Road, up and then halfway down a hill from Amoy Street.
Books Actually is a little piece of heaven for storybook lovers. The decor, smell and selection seem just right, and one feels compelled to purchase something because of the feeling that it would be a great crime to leave without a new book, casually underarm, protected by a simple paper bag.

You can find them at 5, Ann Siang Road. (Wikipedia has an entry on Ann Siang Hill here)

View Books Actually, 5 Ann Siang Road in a larger map

And purchase I did. A collection of snippets of VS Naipaul's writing. Taking prominent place in the collection were the prologue and first chapter of "A House for Mr Biswas". This was a book I first read as a literature text in Secondary school, and later again as an adult in my early 30s. I thought I had gained so much more from my second reading, but now, revisiting the book with the widened eyes and narrowed heart of a 47 year old, I find myself astounded by the depth and beauty of Naipaul's storytelling. Perhaps some of my own story had somehow gotten mixed up into the pages, disguising itself and possessing the seemingly simple sentence structures Naipaul employed in his story of a most unheroic hero, an everyman who was as unremarkable as can be, yet special, unique and admirable in his clumsy striving for his place in the world. It was painful to read. And beautiful too.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

God sends me important lessons when my life most calls for them.

Emperor: "You want this, don't you? The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it! Give into your anger! With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant."
Luke: "No."
Emperor: "It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. You, like your father, are now...mine."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sarah Palin as Anne Elk?

While doing research for the book I'm working on, I came across a great quote from Mahatma Gandhi that I wanted to use for my Gmail account's signature block.

I was then faced with the matter of giving up the current quote I'm using - an obscure bit of dialog from Monty Python's Anne Elk (Theory of Brontosauruses) Sketch.

After a good amount of deliberation, I've found myself itching to watch the sketch and went over to YouTube and ran a search. I came across this video......

.....and what caught my eye was the note the uploader posted. The note asserted that the way Sarah Palin performed in her television interviews while on the campaign trail were remarkably similar to John Cleese's Anne Elk character. I'm extremely disappointed that I did not make the link myself, but this is just so true.

To quote Anne Elk herself, "How very true, my word yes".

A closing thought - could Michael Palin somehow be related to Sarah?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

More Giant Aquatic Dwellers (and edible too!)

Pangasianodon gigas
Otherwise known as the Mekong Giant Catfish. That's no understatement!

Surprising statistics from National Geographic:
According to John Lundberg, researcher with the All Catfish Species Inventory, 2,800 species of catfish have already been described and an additional 1,500 species may yet be discovered. "One out of every four freshwater fish, one out of ten fishes, and one out of twenty vertebratesis a catfish." Catfish are found on every continent except Antarctica and in fresh, coastal, and marine waters.
The World Wildlife Fund has a page on the Mekong Giant Catfish, in view of it's endangered status. There's a PDF factsheet on this page for download, if your appetite (mental, please - not physical) is whetted by this post, and you're wanting more food for thought.

This is one of a number of Posts thats been sitting in my drafts folder for too long. So I release it now from blogpost purgatory, with a little bit of cleaning up, and a little recollection of a meal that Laura, Henry and I had on the last dinner in Manila, in early June 09, where we were working on the Centex Manila school IT Lab.

One of the dishes we had at a restaurant serving local food, a short walk from the hotel we stayed at, was catfish, grilled over what we believe was a charcoal fire at the back of the establishment. It was one of the dishes we ordered by pointing at what we saw at a nearby table that looked interesting - we didn't know it was catfish at that time. Very tasty, lovely texture. It was a perfect complement to the grilled squid that also graced our table.

Brilliant Film: Okuribito (Departures)

What a brilliant film! Slow moving and zen like - but full of thoughtfulness, grace, ceremony and respect. Most of the dialog in the film is spoken in soft tones, the scenes bathed in gentle light, and the cello playing in mellow tones.

The way in which Daigo (the apprentice) and his boss/master approach the dead - gently massaging, kneading, using a careful eye to apply make-up and a respectful technique to cleanse and dress their "client" in japanese costume finery, all in full view of the mourning family members - makes one think of a beautiful and heartfelt performance. It is a solo performance, requiring technical skill and a heart for the art. It is a performance that coaxes beauty from what society attaches mostly negative feelings to.

The english title of the film is Departures (link to website here). And there are many of these in the film that are not just about death:
  • The departure of Daigo's cherished dream of being a professional cellist in an orchestra.
  • The departure of Daigo and Mika to the former's rural hometown from the big city.
  • The departure from the idea of a "normal" and socially acceptable professional life
  • Told in flashback, the departure of his father when Daigo was 6
  • The departure of Mika when she is not able to accept her husband's chosen profession.
There are departures from places, ideas, relationships ...... and physical bodies.

But each departure is accompanied by an arrival. It is impossible for it to be not so. To say more would give too much of the plot away, and I've already said too much as it is.

Departure is associated with loss and/or abandonment. Even if one loses the body, the spirit still lives on. Perhaps one does not lose his body. He gives it up, leaves it behind. But still has what's important with him. Daigo no longer has his orchestra job and his expensive cello, but he still has his playing skill and the child sized cello of his youth - and play it he does, in the home he grew up in, in his office at a company christmas party of 3, and in the open fields under the open sky with the mountains in the background. Performances that bring beauty forth from the substance (wood and string) and essence (the composer's creation, the performer's will)

Life and Death. Passages. Gatekeepers. Substance and Essence. Body and Spirit. All nicely captured in the role of the Okuribito - "a person who sees off".

Director Yojiro Takita has done a superlative job, melding many different elements - visual, characterization, script, music, the rural backdrop into a beautiful meditation, a rounded and thought provoking performance that leaves one feeling and thinking well after the ending credits fade off the screen. The soundtrack should make excellent listening on an overcast day.

Today, Easter Sunday 2009, marks the end of Lent. There's an excellent Op-Ed piece in the NYT by James Carroll, in which he writes about Lent. It's worth a read, and this section from the editorial rolled nicely into my thoughts that were still very tangled with the film:
The season begins with the word “Remember,” uttered as a blot of ashes is smudged on the forehead. Remembering the transience of life — ashes to ashes, dust to dust — remains the essence of the observance.
The Creation of Beauty.

Our lives are not "Things". Our lives are "Performances" to be experienced. With the technical & physical aspects, and just as importantly, the invisible spark of creation, imagination, passion and will.

In Anthony DeMello's book, "the Song of the Bird", he speaks of creation as a dance, performed by God. You cannot keep a dance in a bottle. It does not exist apart from the dancer, but it is not the dancer. It is to be experienced, not owned or bought or kept. It is to be Remembered.

A Creation of Beauty.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Giant Coconut Crabs

I have this fascination for giant aquatic creatures.

So imagine my delight when I came across this picture of a coconut crab. It's taken from a the hoax-slayer site, which makes a judgement that the picture/story is real. Comments at the end of the page from people who have seen and eaten the crabs corroborate the story.

Do a google image search for "coconut crab" and you'll see more photos of this large beastie - one of which is clinging to the trunk of a man, and another to the trunk of a tree. Or you can just click here for the google image page.

There's a good amount of detail in this wikipedia entry.

After giant squids (see this post) and giant crabs, what's next on the menu?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Edward Weston

I was reminded of an earlier post where I mentioned a possible coming holiday to Monterey and surrounds when I read a recent article on the New York Times' website:

In Point Lobos, Where Edward Weston Saw the World Anew

Edward Weston and Ansel Adams left us photographs of the Californian landscape that are so stunningly beautiful and awe inspiring that they are the stuff of legend.

All the more now do I feel the urge to spend a good couple of weeks enjoying long walks along the coast near Monterey and on the trails in the heights of Yosemite. Mountains and Sea. Gunong dan Laut.

At the Bishan Library this afternoon, I came across a DVD for loan - a PBS documentary on Ansel Adams. This was mere hours after I'd read the Weston piece in NYT, so I happily borrowed it without hesitation. In the small print on the back cover was notice that part of the funds that made the film possible had been donated by Hewlett Packard. I can't recall if it was Bill or Dave who was an avid wildlife photographer - I suspect it was Dave Packard (his daughters were behind his donations that made the Monterey Bay Aquarium possible - the idea just seems to fit).

"The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh."
Edward Weston

Monday, March 16, 2009

Comic Book Resoures Feature - Re-Reading the Watchmen

Came across a really enjoyable series on the Comic Book Resources Site.

A couple of comic fans (Atom! and Carr who are comic shop owners in real life) discuss each of the 12 issues of the Watchmen. It's really enjoyable to read. Recommended.

Here's the page with links for all 12 parts of the discussion.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen? The Watchmen movie opens

The watchmen movie opened in Singapore a few days ago.
It's got an M18 rating, which should be quite a draw to the typical movie goer who's just out for entertainment and something to jabber about with friends in casual talk.

For some of us, though, the movie is going to be serious business. It's a story about how imbalances of power create dangerously unstable situations, the consequences of people taking the idea that "the end justifies the means" to it's logical conclusion, and the power of the journal, the written word to upset the best laid plans of mice and men. No details here, because I don't want to spoil this for those who have not yet read the graphic novel or seen the film.

The press is having a field day with journalists trying to write smarter reviews than their competitors. "It's too faithful to the original", some say. "Moore will be spitting venom at the film", say others. "The socio-political context for the story is too different today, from when the book was first released in 1986". "Fallible heroes who think and do bad things are not a surprise any more." "The loss of the pirate comic sequence (Tales of the Black Freighter) undermines the story." "Where's the giant squid built by the scientists, artists, musicians....."

I've not seen the film yet. I will go to the cinema with the same attitude that accompanied me to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The attitude that says that it's not just about the story, but how it's told. The reader's experience from a novel, comic or film cannot be the same. Different senses and mental faculties are engaged. Consider that simply reading an Isaac Singer story originally written in Yiddish that's been translated into English is going to result in a different experience - irrespective of the language and cultural perspectives the reader. How much more so a translation from 2D drawings sequenced into tight 9 frame pages and rigid monthly publishing schedule to a full movie treatment with computer graphics, audio effects and live humans in costumes that would look comical in ordinary daylight is going to be delivering a very different experience of the story.

My advice. Enjoy the film on it's own merits. It's a different work altogether from the original graphic novel.

For the record - I thought Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings was a brilliant piece of work. Some of the visual sequences still bring about a rapid series of changes in my vascular and digestive systems - in ways that the poetry and grace of Tolkien's pen could never have.

Just as in the case of the Lord of the Rings film, I'm sure I'll have an uncontrollable urge to go back and re-read the Watchmen with new eyes. As a companion to my re-read, I'll be referring to Doug Atkinson's excellent annotations.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library

The Acme Novelty Library is huge.  Twice as tall as the typical comic book, and sturdy between it's hardcovers, it's an almost confusing mix of panel arrangements, small fonts and very clean graphics.   One of the first things you notice when flipping through the book are a good number of pages that mimic the look of the kinds of adverts that will be familiar to readers of american comic books of the late 60s and early 70s.  Quite delightful!

But once you get past it's size, the visual layouts and how the book feels in your hands,  and start reading through what are mostly one page stories, you immediately realise that this is a book about tragedies - self-inflicted and thoughtlessly inflicted upon others, born from ignorance, an ignorance that's purely the result of the character's thoughts, ideas and beliefs. 

Chris Ware's characters are a lonely and alienated bunch.  They're trying to fill what they think is lacking in their lives by getting into relationships with people or machines, but selfishness or plain stupidity keep getting in the way and the result is emotional hurt to one or both parties.  

It's mostly poignant stuff, and occasionally depressing.  

For a Wikipedia Entry on Chris Ware and his work, click here.

While browsing the web for more on the author, I came across this Time article:
the depressing joy of Chris Ware (Nov 2001)
If you live in Singapore, there are many copies in the National Library branches, under the Call Number 741.5973 WAR.  The Central library alone has 3 copies.  


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Song of the Month series begins

A new series! Song of the month. And the song for Jan 09 is from Mary Chapin Carpenter.
A simple song, told like a simple story, that brings up deep thoughts and feelings of time passing by, family relationships and the meaning of life, and certainly what it's like to travel through the freezing darkness of open space for what seems an eternity.

Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a children's book based on the song, titled "Halley Came to Jackson", which is on Amazon, where you can read formal as well as customer reviews.The lyrics are available on this page in Yahoo's Music site.

See the Amazon MP3 widget on the right navigation bar to listen to a snippet. It'll be there till next month's song is loaded into it.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen

Just read this article from NYT's site:

Watchmen Skulk to the Screen - published Jan 30, 2009

Which sent me back to my old copies of the series. I've not read and re-read the Watchmen as much as Lord of the Rings or the Sandman series. Which perhaps added to the sheer enjoyment that overcame me on this most recent reading.

Strongly recommend you read the graphic novel before you see the film. I'm confident that no matter how good a job Snyder does on the Watchmen movie (and he should do good, based on his work on 300) the movie will pale in comparison to the richness of the original comic series.

If any of you is interested to borrow my copy (individual issues, individually bagged) to read, give me a buzz.

Watchmen is truely awesome. Moore and Gibbons totally outdid themselves on this collaboration.