Words without meaning may yet hold value to readers
Alex Huang is a relatively simple guy living in Singapore.
He sometimes tells people he's a system analyst, but only so they will give him money.
He also tends to refer to himself in the third person when describing himself, because first person perspectives make him motion sick. That's why he doesn't play Team Fortress.
The failure of his liver dragged out over two years, and finally ended in a dramatic final week in hospital. The last couple of days were terrible, but I suspect we had it easy as a family–there was no hope for recovery, so it was a matter of hoping for the least amount of pain, and that was resolved with drugs (when the doctors eventually got the dosage right). Mommy and my sister had it the worst–everything happened on their watches (also they had the most watches).
The funeral was an eye-opener for me–a three day Buddhist event full of bowing, incense, praying and entertaining. We did it at with Casket Fairprice at their funeral parlour, which turned out to be a lot more quite comfortable than having it at a HDB void deck (there was air conditioning). A lot more people showed up than I would have expected for my uncle, who was, to most, a bachelor and a pauper.
I suppose funerals and wakes are more to appease the living and to announce the death to society at large, but I thought it was a little sad that none of his friends came. Not that any of us knew who his friends were, other than the other old folks whom he shared his time with at the local kopitiam, so there was really no way for us to let them know about the funeral. I wonder if he had any past lovers or friends who might have shed a tear for him.
I was never close to my uncle. I have photos of him holding me as a baby, but little recollection that we spent much time together afterwards. For one, my Cantonese is almost as bad as his English was, so communication never progressed beyond the typical “are you eating well” and “study hard” platitudes. Given their age gaps, Mommy was also not as close to him as siblings could be, so she displayed little affection towards him to rub off on us. Her general prickliness towards houseguests also made his visits short and succinct, which didn’t make for much interaction.
While I’m not particularly upset over his passing, it has left me wondering about the potential similarities in my life. Whether any of the friends I’ve made along the way would show up at my funeral (my sister suggested that notification was a simple matter of getting my phone and doing a mass-broadcast over facebook). I’d like to think that my death could warm some seats, though whether any lashes would be wet is uncertain. I always did love more broadly than deeply.
Uncle left behind a bunch of antique coins, which he claimed to be worth a pretty penny. I have no doubt that, in the hands of a collector, they might be, but for now they sit, orphaned, in my brother’s old room at Mommy’s. With a bit of luck perhaps she might get into it as a hobby–though I suspect the memory of her brother will haunt her every time she looks at them and spoil the experience.
Will I leave behind anything other than a gigantic stash of porn and some occasional scribblings on a blog?
Caught the latest Spider-Man movie today, after seeing the very good reviews around it. It was excellent, as promised–so good in fact that I bothered to type up this rant about it.
During the post-show discussion with my friends, I mentioned that this Spider Man could have been a textbook example of the recent push for diversity in representation. I got a couple of pained looks–I suspect because for the Marvel nerds the characters have already existed within the Spider-Verse for a long time, and served as Marvel’s litmus test for inclusion and diversity. Of course, Marvel’s X-Men kicked the ball off for representation, but I thought it was odd that the Spider-Man franchise, a stereotypically white male superhero, would get picked to be so radically rebooted (or perhaps not so strange, given Sony’s relationship with Marvel over character IP and canon).
You could probably write entire essays about the politics of this new Spider-Man: how the new Spider Man is black (at least, as black as Obama), how it’s about an ensemble cast of racially and gender diverse Spider-People working together to save the world rather than a lonely single Uber-Mensch, how Spider-Woman is the best fighter of all of them, the tension middle-class African Americans have with the stereotype of black gang and criminal activity… The movie is a morality play, and rather a heavy-handed one, but perfectly juxtaposed with wink-wink self-referential humour and high-adrenaline swinging-through-the-rooftop action sequences.
What I thought was interesting was how the show presented to a white male perspective, and the questions it posed about the role of straight white men in a gender-equal, post-racial world. In a movie about being a hero, this Spider-Man is about how to not be the hero.
We open with Peter Parker, the Spider-Man we all know and love, but yet slightly different from the slightly-bumbling Peter Parker we’re familiar from the first movie (I only acknowledge Toby Maguire). This Peter Parker is blond, confident, sassy, in love with his woman and his job and, most of all, successful at everything he does. He is at his prime, the symbol of white male privilege and power.
Unfortunately, this Peter Parker dies twenty minutes into the movie.
We are instead left with a new Spider-Man in the form of Miles Morales, who is young and unsure of himself. Miles stumbles around, trying his best in an ill-fitting Spider-Man costume, but he is young and unready–the new world order cannot survive without a little help and guidance.
Cue Alternate-Peter Parker, who is a little older than our blond, blue-eyed but dead Spider-Man. Alternate-Peter has been around a long time, is a little past-his prime, and has learned that being the Sole Saviour of the World is not very rewarding. His marriage has collapsed, he lounges around in sweatpants and he sports a dad-bod. He’s stuck in a rut–he’s afraid to move on, he’s afraid of children, he’s lost his way despite having all the power and privilege of being Spider-Man.
In what I thought was a very intelligent subversion of a very common trope of a white man being taught by a wise and quirky ethnic how to succeed in strange and new circumstances, the movie has Alternate-Peter mentoring Miles on how to get ahead. He does so with limited success, but like he says, there is no real training that can prepare you for the real thing, social systems are made up as they go along, and young Miles is not ready to do a real man’s job. This means the burden of the world’s problems are once again on Alternate-Peter’s shoulders, which he seemingly is happy to sacrifice himself to do, but which we all know is his way of extending the status quo as long as it will last, so that he does not need to face the future.
Miles eventually comes to terms with his newfound powers and starts kicking ass, but not before putting on a new outfit–one that he modifies himself. The new order, whilst keeping vestiges of the old, must govern on its own terms.
We finally see Alternate-Peter trying to get back with Alternate-Mary-Jane. Whether or not it works we don’t know, but at least he has found a way forward after recognizing the new Spider-Man and realizing that he does not have to be the only Hero. Also he discovers he might actually like children now.
The movie’s main antagonist, Kingpin, is in many ways similar to Alternate-Peter. He, too, has lost power and masculinity. His wife and child are dead, indirectly because of him. However, unlike Alternate Peter who languishes in confusion and apathy, he seeks to bring them back by whatever means necessary.
I thought it was interesting that despite seemingly having an equally inclusive and diverse (if less pretty) cast of villians, Kingpin never treats them as being any better than mere henchmen, and does not recognize them as being equal partners.
Refusing to acknowledge that he is, in fact, the root of his issues, he sees the world as the problem and constantly tries to “fix” it, to shape the world around him. But he is doomed to fail, his alternate-wives and alternate-childs alternate-rejecting him, and ultimately again run over by alternate-cars. Being an Ubermensch cannot solve the problem when being an Ubermensch is the issue.
(Also, one cannot help but wonder what his plan was for when his alternate selves built alternate dimension machines to steal back their alternate wives from him, but that is probably another essay to be written about the selfishness and short-sightedness of capitalism.)
I think the movie gives a nod to the loss of power and masculinity (whatever that term means) experienced by straight-white-men across the world, which has seen the rise of uber-male groups like the bad boys. It says simply–“A more equal world doesn’t exclude you, it won’t be that bad, and the faster you come to terms that the future is changing, the happier you’ll be the and the more allies you will have.” And that’s a refreshingly conciliatory message in an increasingly insular and polarized world.
When I’m flying, one of my favourite things to do is to read the in-flight shopping perfume ads. Perfume is a tough sell in print–I always imagine it’s some poor, drunk copywriter sitting in a dark, smoky, unkempt room who can’t get work doing anything else (his small poetry compilation did poorly) who has to write them. His phone will ring he’ll pick it up, some bored intern from the perfume conglomerate will read out a list of ingredients and he’ll hack out some hyperbolic description on a rusty old typewriter while he chugs a bottle of warm whiskey with a cigarette butt inside.
Top notes of gentle jasmine mingle playfully with a smoky woody base of burnt oak and umber. A rush of citrus and watermelon follow through, reminding you of summer days of leisure and fun with your friends and family. Truly, a scent for the season that will bring out the active, dynamic side of the modern woman.
I didn’t really expect to come across hyperbole on something as banal as the HDB description for a 3-room flat, though:
Really, HDB? “infinite space”?
Maybe if by “clever touches”, you mean “become a Time Lord” and renovate your little HDB flat such that it’s internal spacetime exists on a separate dimensionality from the rest of the universe. I suspect even Phua Chu Kang, best in Singapore and even JB might find that a difficult job.
I finally finished Midnight’s Children! It was so long and tedious I actually feel accomplishment for having done it.
But now that I’ve finished it, I can’t even tell if I liked it or not. I hated the narrator and the style narration. I loathed it. And I think that was what Rushdie intended. I suppose it deserves its Booker Prize–even if you hate this book, I think you’ll see that you were meant to have hated it–its unlikeability stems not from being a poor piece of work, but being true to its subject matter. Even its rushed letdown of an ending seems oddly appropriate, since by that time you already know that Saleem can’t tell a story about visiting the toilet without hamming it up with a thousand other details.
I do regret not reading this before visiting India–I think it perfectly describes my ambivalence to the country. Also for the little bits of history sprinkled throughout that reading Wikipedia doesn’t quite convery.
Little misadventure last week. I was scheduled to fly from KL back to Singapore late on the 6th, last Thursday. I’d booked the last available flight so that I could do as much work as possible on the day itself, but I ended up just looking at logs and trying to provide reasons for systems not working that I don’t understand. That’s been happening a lot lately, and I’m getting rather sick of it, but that’s a story for another day.
In any case, the long-and-short of it is that I missed my flight. The taxi pulled up at the airport 40 minutes before departure, and by the time I’d found the check-in counter it was empty, with only a “CLOSED” sign to let me know anyone had ever been there.
Thankfully, KL’s LCCT airport isn’t quite as horrible as I’d imagined. I managed to buy my tickets for a flight back on the very next day at 6AM within 30 minutes with AirAsia (my original booking was with Tiger), and the bulk of the delay was in getting cash from the ATM. The airport was bustling with people, and there were still some retail shops open, even though they weren’t selling anything I’d be interested in.
I considered my options: spend money sleeping at the airport hotel (surprise! there was one), hug my luggage the entire night while grabbing what sleep I could in the lounge, or travelling back to Petaling Jaya where the company apartment was, only to return in another 6 hours. I decided for the hotel–risking airport pickpockets and KL traffic seemed like hassles I didn’t want to deal with at that point.
The worst part about LCCT is that the only hotel, a Malaysian budget chain “Tune” was 500m away. Some more adventurous travellers walked with their luggage, but not having had dinner that night I didn’t have the energy for it. Thankfully, there was a transit bus. I found a queue and asked a middle aged chinese couple in their forties if it was for the hotel bus. She smiled, nodded at me, then turned to her partner and linked her arm in his. After the stress of the evening, her smile comforted me. I suppose might be why I paid them extra attention that night. It struck me that they had no luggage on them, unlike the rest of us in the queue.
There was a pretty good mix of people at the hotel–some like me who’d missed their flights, some who needed a place to rest for a couple of hours while waiting for to fly somewhere else. The poor reception desk was swamped with a line of irritated, tired people
The couple I’d queued behind were in front of me at reception too. Only he booked the room, though. She sat quietly at the far side of the lobby, on a white faux-leather lounge sofa just looking on serenely. He spent quite a long time questioning the hotel reception about the costs of various services (the hotel charged for towels and even air-conditioning), so I think the money must have mattered to him. I couldn’t tell if he was Singaporean or Malaysian from his accent; he sounded better educated than a typical kopitiam uncle, though not overtly ang-mo-pai, and had the manner of a man trying to be casual in an unfamiliar situation.
She had on a sleeve-less black dress, which revealed arms with a little more fat than was fashionable, and her hair was a simple shoulder-length affair, but she still looked oddly elegant–almost detached from the roomful of irritated, tired room-seekers. Perhaps it was her posture–it was excellent. She looked relaxed, trusting that he would be able to take care of things, although the other line moved quickly on as he checked and calculated prices. He finally finished his booking, and as I took his place to make mine, I noticed out the corner of my eye how they communicated, silently. He turned to give her a slight nod–all the signal she needed to join his side at the elevator. They held hands.
Despite spending the money for it, I hardly slept that night, having recently become addicted to Knights of Pen and Paper. I finally crashed at 1:30AM, only to wake at 4AM to stumble, bleary-eyed, to the airport.
It turns out they were on the same flight I was on back to Singapore–I caught a glimpse of them at the check-in, and again at the waiting area, just sitting together, holding hands without talking. We landed safely in Singapore, and the last I saw of them they were walking down the corridor after clearing immigration, ignoring the duty-free and the luggage carousels. There was nothing they wanted to buy, they had no baggage. She had nothing but a little handbag; The only thing in his hand was hers.
I’m not sure why they had to take an impromptu trip to Singapore, what their relationship was, or why they had to stay at a dingy airport hotel. I don’t think I it was a planned vacation, at any rate, or at least it was one which didn’t allow very much time. Maybe it’s just all the Sherlock and Elementary I’ve been watching, which makes me think I can deduce something about two strangers from the little I saw.
But I think I know enough to recognize what doesn’t need words to explain. I think I saw love.
And I hope when I’m forty someone will still want to hold my hand.
So I’ve been doing some research trying to find some interesting trekking sites in Singapore. One of the less mainstream walks seems to involve finding the derelict Shinto Shrine which was built in 1942 following Singapore’s fall to the Japanese.
Now, quite a few people have visited and blogged about it, but I just thought this particular resource was a little funny: it’s from a blog for a luxury condo developer, selling the “Thomson Three” at Bright Hill:
Infested by various snakes, scorpions, spiders and mosquitoes, superstitious trekkers who lose their way in search of the Syonan Jinja would blame it on the haunting of the Japanese spirits who protect the Jinja its treasures from intruders.
Because that’s what every potential luxury condo investor is looking for–proximity to ancient ghosts guarding war loot.
There was plenty to eat, but precious little to see. We went to the mildly-interesting train station and city hall, but not any of the caves or temples. I’m given to think they would have been only mildly-interesting as well. The nightlife was, as far as I could tell, non-existent.
I’m not entirely certain if it’s Ipoh’s fault for being boring, or if I just had a guide who was somewhat lazy and ill. To be fair, he was a local and the problem with asking locals about interesting things to see is always a tricky business. After all, it’s difficult to gauge how interesting something you’ve grown up taking for granted is. Also, I was a bit of a third leg, so my views on Ipoh may have been somewhat coloured.
Still, HS and I weren’t supposed to be there for the sights anyway–it was meant to be a working trip, after all. We didn’t get much done, though–well, not the work we set out to complete, anyway. We did get our hair done and put on a couple of pounds.
Overall not one of the most productive or enjoyable trips I’ve taken, but at least it didn’t cost much.