Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Twitching and Itching

"Fuck you,
Fuck you very, very much"

Fuck You (2009) by Lily Allen

I never knew that it's possible to say "fuck you" in such a cute way.

Since yesterday night, my left eyelid has been twitching continuously and it's mind-screwing me something fierce (the proper term for it is fasciculations, for you medical types reading this) and it had followed me the entire day today up till now, even after my nap in the evening. It's like a little heart going 'tup, tup, tup' the whole time beating a tattoo on the top of my cornea and upper sclera. Try tapping on your eyelid for a bit; that's what it was like for me for the past 24 hours. If I close my right eye, everything I see just keeps twitching in and out of focus, making it a real bitch to concentrate or even function at all in my Community Medicine posting at the Peringgit Polyclinic today. I got to watch a removal of an old intrauterine contraceptive device from a woman's menstruating womb and the insertion of a new one, and I was worrying the whole time that the woman whose baby pipe I was staring up at would notice my tic and think it to be caused by some unusual, extra-medical interest in her haemorrhaging genitalia. A colleague of mine says that it means something good is going to happen to me, since it's my left eyelid that's twitching. I really like to see him write that diagnosis in a Medicine exam paper somewhere.

This isn't the first time something of this nature manifested in my person. For the past two years, I've been experiencing strange, sporadic fasciculations in the voluntary muscles on my eyelids, cheeks, arms and legs lasting from seconds to minutes - little flutterings of a few muscle fibres visible just beneath the skin - which disappears upon usage of those same muscles, but they usually return when the muscles are at rest again. The fasciculations in my left eyelid today is the lengthiest attack I ever experienced. And no, I had enough sleep yesterday night, thank you very much - but I did notice that these random twitches occur more frequently when I'm tired, stressed out, not getting enough sleep or wired on caffeine.

Starting at the same time as my left eyelid twitching yesterday was an unexplained ache on the back of my left knee and I noticed it when I got up from my chair (after having planted myself in it for the entire night) to look at my eyelid in the mirror. It felt like I either pulled a tendon or just suffered a cramp, but I hadn't been exerting myself at all (which is an understatement) and I don't believe it's medically possible for me to suffer a cramp while I'm conscious and not feel a damn thing. This is freaking bizzare. It's like that pain I sometimes get in my right ankle. Those who know me might notice that I occasionally limp when I walk, while on most days I walk just fine. And I wasn't imitating Dr House either. I don't take hero worship that far, alright (although if I do, I'd sooner imitate Alexander the Great, buy myself a horse and get a boyfriend named Hephaestion). Anyway, as I was saying; that pain in my right ankle felt like a tendon injury which appeared from no-damn-where. I'd be doing something as inane as stepping out of a car, walking down a step or getting out of bed and experience an excruciating, shooting pain in that ankle - and it'd continue to hurt for the next few days.

Oh, and the tremors; have I mentioned that yet? Aside from the fine resting tremors of my hands, which I'm sure quite a lot of people has, I also get this dramatic bouts of intention tremors (i.e. medispeak for tremors-when-doing-stuff) which happens rarely - but when it does, it's pretty darn alarming. I'll give you an example; I'd be eating and suddenly, the hand holding the spoon would tremble uncontrollably, spilling everything in it. I don't know if it has anything to do with the way I hold my utensils but I never had such attacks when I'm wielding a scalpel or pen,

See, no tremors. I drew this during a Medicine lecture today. Couldn't concentrate for my eyelid.

If I discount the tremors as something wholy unrelated, keeping only the fasculations and weird aches, I can probably make a diagnosis of Benign Fasciculation Syndrome, which is very, very optimistic of me. Technically, I can only conclude it as that after I have ruled out all the more sinister diseases showing the same spectrum of symptoms like amyotropic lateral sclerosis (or Lou Gehrig's, which Stephen Hawking famously suffers from), multiple sclerosis and even Parkinson's - but I'm going with BFS because of my clinical picture. I'm wondering if I should get a check up and an electromyographic study done as well, just to be sure.

By the way, I couldn't get any description of BFS from any of my textbooks. My online search did however turn up a Mayo Clinic study on the condition which I found informative, if brief.

Well, if I'm right, this chalks up as my second diagnosis of a harmless condition in myself,

My first is this, picture taken in 2006. And as you can see, I'm partially ambidextrous.

It's called Dermatographic Urticaria which is a mongrel mix of pretentious medical Greek and Latin meaning "skin-writing") and yeap, I can indeed write on my skin. It affects my entire body and only excludes the bits on my palms, soles and genitals (much to Phoebe's disappointment). All I need to do is scratch out whatever it is I want to write or draw and voila! Out it pops in a few short minutes. I only know two other people who has it; a good friend of mine from London and a classmate who apparently recovered from it. Some suffer from it for life though and I kind of hope I'm one of those. It's a pretty darn swell disease to have, if you ask me. Makes for great party conversations anyway.

First off, it's not properly understood how people get this but so far, they've found no infective or genetic aetiology - means its not contagious and you can't get it from your parents. You know your usual allergic reactions? You eat something or touch something and suddenly, you break out in hives. It's caused by this protein called histamine which is stored in cells called mast cells under your skin. Mast cells release histamines when they are exposed to something you're allergic to, causing itching, burning sensations and red wheals to form on the surface of your body.

Dermatographic urticaria is slightly different, and isn't caused by any specific allergy. It's actually caused by a weakness in the integrity of the membranes of these mast cells, which makes them fragile and break easily on pressure. So basically, any pressure strong enough to pop 'em can start an allergic-like response on my skin. My fingernails, a pencil, the edge of a table, the elastic waistband of a pair of shorts, a belt buckle or just whatever-the-heck's harder than cotton - all of them can be used to "write" on my skin. That's right, I'm basically allergic to touch.

And it didn't take long for someone to recognise the artistic potential of having such a condition. Me, I'm mostly thinking about cheating in exams with it.

Flora 2006
Flora 2006

Flora (Kneel) 2006
Flora (Kneel) 2006

Toile 2 2006
Toile 2 2006

Index 2005
Index 2005, my personal favourite.

An artist named Ariana Page Russell created these pieces with what she had to work with, her skin and her dermatographism. I can tell you this isn't easy at all. It takes a while before the skin starts whealing so she pretty much have to visualise what she wanted to achieve from the get go. And if she's anything like me, her indurations would only last for about half an hour, so she probably had to scratch everything out as quickly as she could so bits don't start to disappear when she photographs them.

Pretty, if slightly gross. Oh well, you know what they say about art and subjectivity.

Weirder than you think,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Japanese Collegiate Invasion

"Computer games don't affect kids; I mean if Pac-Man affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in darkened rooms, munching magic pills and listening to repetitive electronic music."


... and Coreans and Burmese as well, but they don't look as good when they are all in the title that way. Now taking it from the top, Lai Yin made an announcement in class last Thursday (or last Tuesday, because I'm memory-impaired that way) about a group of students from a university in Nippon - on a Learning Across Borders program - would be visiting our campus during the weekend. Whatever it was that they hoped to learn from a campus such as ours is up for speculation and debate because I sure am not learning a lot here. Lai Yin, o' great mouthpiece of the Student Council, proclaimed that she needed 4 volunteers on the welcoming committee of the ambassadors - and lukewarm doesn't even begin to describe the reception. It's hard to fault my classmates though, seeing that the sessional exams would be upon us soon, blighting our next weeks and killing our puppies.

I, surprisingly, was the first to volunteer for this thing. Normally, when it comes to Student Council projects, I have to be persuaded, flattered, press-ganged, bribed or conned into participation - so you might be wondering why I am suddenly so helpful. Truth is, I only got myself involved because I wanted to tell Japanese people how much I think their animes and mangas suck, and tell Coreans that I hate their dramas and popstars (I don't care how much you want to have his babies, Phoebe, but any guy with a name like Rain is most definitely gay).

The guy who led the group of foreign students to our little middle-of-nowhere was Dwight,

This is Dwight.

According to Dwight, the reason they are even stopping at our campus is because of our Deputy Registrar, Mr. Sathuraman, who apparently did admin work over at USM in Penang some years ago. Dwight's crew used to stop at USM in the past years, but ever since Mr. Sathu gave up his position there and took up a seat in our college, they actually, in Dwight's own words, "followed Mr. Sathu here." Now, I have a real reason to like our Deputy Registrar!

And if they would put the program in reverse and send some of our people over to Nippon, I'd sign up for it in a heartbeat.

The night's program kicked off with a college-sponsored dinner (i.e. free!) where equal numbers of our college's student were mixed with Japanese, Corean or Burmese students on separate tables in an act of enforced and policed mingling. At my table was a shy Corean girl called Hyung Kyong who lived most of her life in Japan and finally taught me how Seoul is really pronounced, and a Japanese girl called Marina,

Marina and I
The one on the right is Marina, y'know, in case you have trouble telling us apart.

Marina's story is a pretty interesting one; she spent the first three years of her elementary school years in an international school in KL so this wasn't exactly her first time visiting this stretch of real estate located between Thailand and Singapore. Aside that, she also served little stints in Singapore and Jakarta due to the nature of her father's work before finally returning to Japan, joining a university in Tokyo, and applying for a place in the Learning Across Borders program to return to this region. Now, why isn't my life half as fascinating?

Suhaimi, our resident gym instructor, was responsible for the party games after dinner because no one on the Student Council had time to organise any (due to that puppy-killing sessional exams I mentioned earlier). I have to admit that this was the part I was most apprehensive about that night. He was the guy who came up with the um, sukanria our class had to play on what was our traditional Manipal-to-Malacca homecoming celebration organised by our senior batch, and I can swear that I played the same games back when I was seven during PE in primary school. Not that there's anything wrong with those games, no, excepting the snag that we are all in our early and mid-twenties, which evidently slipped clean off his mind.

I stand corrected now though. Suhaimi did an unexpectedly awesome job with the games yesterday night,

Balloon Tower
I don't want to explain this.

Newspaper Tower
Nor this.

Mayu Carried
But any game involving lots of this is a-okay by me.

At any rate, I think it'd be quite hard for the games to fall short because the infectious and childlike enthusiasm of our guesties automatically made everything fresh and fun. I know that sounded like my usual cynical sarcastic shtick but I assure you, I meant all that. I suppose that's what the interviews for these sort of programs are for; to screen for the nicest, friendliest applicants they can get.

I was quite surprised to find out that most of the Japanese students in that group speaks English almost flawlessly. Since the widest exposure I ever had of Japanese linguistic abilities is in animes (where their use gratuitous Engrish felt like daggers punching into my kidneys over and over again) and from some travellers I met while I was backpacking through the Indian North, I was quite resigned to spending an evening playing charades with the visitors. Goes to show why I should stop stereotyping people before I really get to know them.

Another thing I learnt about most Japanese people is that the stereotype that they compulsively put up the peace sign when posing for pictures is all well and still true,

Cho Ken
Cho Ken and, uh, a Japanese girl, peacing it up. I didn't get her name.

OMG, they got Sanjeev!!!

It went out of fashion in Malaysia like ten years ago. The only time I put up the peace sign these days is when I have my tongue between the fingers, making licking motions.

After the official event ended at about 10:00 pm, there were talks of bringing our new friends out to town. I pledged my car, of course, and we all drove to their Hotel to pick them up. It's a bit hard deciding where to take them though seeing that we were in Malacca - it was a toss between a club or a beachside cafe. I was in favour of the latter because frankly, Malaccan clubs are disgraceful (after what they presumably saw in KL and in their own country). There's so much smoke in them that you might as well light one up yourself and breathe through a filter.

Anyhow, beachside cafe won the vote but "some of us" got sidetracked en route. I noticed that the Jonker Street weekend bazaar were still open and suggested that we hit that instead - since it's closer to their hotel and some of them didn't want to stay out too late considering that they have an early bus to catch to Singapore in the day after. They just wanted a nice little place we can sit and chat,

Emi Marina Azusa
On the upper floor of Geographer's Cafe, arguably the best cafe Malacca has to offer. That's Azusa to the right of Sanjeev. The one with her eyes closed on Sanjeev's left is Emi.

Of all the foreign students I talked to, I found that I clicked most immediately with Emi who is into touch football and Our Lady Peace. She's born in the States - which explains her American accent - and she majors in politics management, which I still don't quite get even after she explained it to me. While the rest were talking about what sounded ostensibly like academic stuff, I was discussing about mangas and animes (okay, I admit I do like some), and about western music with her. Pop culture. 'Cause we know what really matters in life.

I found out that she likes Michelle Branch as well, and agreed with me that she sucked when she was in The Wreckers (she was surprised and gladdened to find out that Branch is having a new album out soon though). We laughed over Katy Perry's last word in her Ur So Gay song, and sang along together to some oldies the live band were playing downstairs. It's a strange feeling, meeting someone who came from somewhere faraway you always thought were mystical, weird and alien - and found that it's still possible to have something in common with her.

I think I want to go to Japan now, goddamn the cost. I have always loved their food and thought highly of their secular, creative and liberal society which possesses all the values I admire, none of which are prevalent in our own.

Call it a gut feeling but now, I just know that there is really a lot of nice people there as well.

P.S. Alright, I thought My Sassy Girl was kinda cute too - to be fair to the Coreans. I still can't forgive them for Rain though.

Not really a Japanophile though,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, February 16, 2009

How I Got Conned Into Acting in a Sketch

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people."

G.K. Chesterton

It was last Tuesday and it was the middle of the evening some time after dinner. I was asleep in bed; restful, serene, semi-comatose like a babe on morphine and riding sheeps going at 100 mph in ZeeZeeLand. I can't stress enough how incredibly not awake I am here because you see, I was about to be waken up by one of those horrid animals we know only as "phone calls".

This particular "phone call" crept up on me and attacked my person some time between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm and mimicked quite perfectly the voice of a classmate of mine called Nickson. Nickson's voice spoke thus,

"Hey Kok. We need your help. Can you play a part in our sketch for the Annual Night?"

"Uh, I can't act," I replied with great immediacy, vehemence and certainty. My bedroom voice might have defused it a little but...

"Oh, you're sleeping? Sorry for waking you up! Your part is very small one. It's practically written for you," said Nickson's voice.

"Well, I dunno..." At this point, I was actually buying time to think up of some bulletproof excuse.

"You don't even have lines!"

"Really?" I caved and had to feel my balls to check if I was still a man. "Okay, okay. I'll do it"

"Thanks! Rehearsal's tomorrow alright? Bye!"

And the phone call flatlined.

To be honest, I only gave in because I was riding a minor guilt trip for declining Inn Shan's (my class rep), Lauren's (my other class rep), Lai Yin's (my class' student council rep) and Steven's (who held an important post in the council but I can't remember what) request to design the backdrop for the Annual Night of 2009. My reason was that I was busy and when anyone asked what I was actually busy doing, my answer was consistently "Something-la" said in what I hoped was a passably mysterious tone so people won't feel comfortable inquiring further.

Lauren wasn't fooled one second, of course, and bluntly pointed out, "What have you got to be so busy about?" Damn, foiled again! I swear that that woman sees right through me every time.

The truth is, I dislike receiving designing jobs at such short notice. They only gave me two weeks! Imagine that, just two measly weeks! I need at least a month, alright. I need the first three weeks just to slowly come to terms with the fact that I actually have to do some work. Then, I will spend the last week mulling over what I have in mind for the design before finally pulling an all-nighter to complete the project one day after the deadline. That's how I roll, people, that's how I roll.

So, a small bit mute part in a li'l sketch sounded like a fair act of atonement for not agreeing to do the backdrop, notthatIwasobligatedtoanyway. Plus, I didn't even need to help in writing the script since Nickson, Yin Yee and Jun Han did that already.

Now, the next part of this story took place the next day in the middle of the evening while I was napping (again) and it too, took off with a phone call. This time, however, Inn Shan was on the line,

"Kok, you're sleeping?" said Inn Shan, repeating a line very familiar to me. "Rehearsal's at 6:00 pm in the badminton court. Didn't you get an SMS?"

"No," I answer groggily, squinting at the face of my watch on my bedside. It was already 5:50 pm. "I don't think I can make it, man. Can't you replace me with someone else?"

Then, there was a moment of silence, pregnant with the most inauspicious of portents. It was the sort of silence that precedes something Very Bad Indeed. Shit cannons were loaded with shit - oodles and oodles of shit - and they were all aimed at a giant fan.

"We can't do that, Kok. You're the lead."

The crew after the performance. That's me there in a bitchin' black Joker T-shirt.

Honestly, I sometimes feel like I'm the only person that gets into these sort of sitcomical situations.

So what could I do? I threw on something decent and headed for the blasted rehearsal, and found that no one even arrived yet. I was reluctant and was late because I did not know the time, and was still the earliest. And guess at what time the rehearsal finally started?

7:00 fucking pm.

Alright people, this flexi-time attitude has definitely got to stop. It's not cute or endearing, and it isn't our fucking national identity. I have lost count of just how many times I saw the nonchalant smile on the shit-face of a latecomer who kept everyone waiting for him - and all that person has to offer in apology was a shrug like it's his God-given right to arrive an hour late to any bloody thing he likes. I said "he" but I'm talking about girls too. Especially girls. One day, I shall explode. I exploded just once before in my life and believe me, no one present at the time wanted to see it happen again ever. I spent two whole hours shouting non-stop at the top of my lungs at someone with all the venom, bile and hate stored up in my system from all the time I let shit like this slide. You have NO IDEA how poisonous my words can be.

Anyway, I found to my dismay that it was true - I was the lead, like Inn Shan said. Why can't I get the other kinds of surprises? Y'know, the sort that involve accidentally finding a million bucks in my bank account or stumbling over a brand new PC by the big bin outside while I was taking out the garbage? Damn, I really hate how God runs things around here.

Now, I don't want to bother writing the entire script here in this post (because that's not really pertinent to anything) but it's about Lunar New Year customs and how some guy bungles it all up. That 'some guy' was me, apparently. I have no prior experience in acting, mind you, and I've only ever been on stage like 5 times in total; thrice for singing (back before my voice broke, actually winning twice), once for dancing (which I won too, by the way) with this really hot First Former chick who looked waaay older than she really is, and once as an impromptu emcee for a Buddhist Society Combined Meet because the guy who was suppose to do it didn't prepare for it at all. That's right, I totally winged it, did it on the fly, and I consider it one of my more memorable achievements of my teenage years. This cool break-dancer guy who smokes ('cuz smokin' iz kool, yo), who was present at the time actually came right up to me and told me that I did a great job. And the chairman of the event told me that the whole thing would have sucked if it wasn't for me. Of course, I'm not nearly charismatic enough to pull any of those shit off anymore. My ex-girlfriend said it best; "What happened? You used to be interesting!" Haha.

Oh, about the sketch? We rehearsed for 2 hours, and made up a lot of new gags as we went along. I suggested a great number of them considering that my ugly face's now on the line. I had no choice but to commit, really.

In the day after (which was a Thursday) about five-minutes into my afternoon nap, I was wakened by yet another call from Inn Shan. I'm beginning to suspect that that guy is out to get me,

"You're sleeping again, ar? Sorry sorry sorry, but you need to get to campus now," he said. "The president of the student council wants to see our sketch before we perform tonight."

Tonight?! It was tonight?!

This, dear readers, is not a joke. I seriously thought that the Annual Night would be on the next day, on Friday - and there I was, thinking that we still had like a whole day to make the after which we had to display what atrocity we managed to come up with the in the day before in front of the president of the student council. I suddenly had this utterly brill idea of giving our worst so that the prez would refuse to green-light our act, but unfortunately, I couldn't get the others to agree (they thought I was joking in a dead serious kind of way).

After we got miraculously got through the prez and her clique, we only had another hour left of rehearsal before we all have to go home and get ready. When I got back, the opening act, a hired lion dance troupe, had already started and I found, surprise surprise, that our sketch was to be the last performance of the night before the guests and students leave the hall for dinner alfresco. Awesome, our suck would be the last thing on their minds. Also, most of our extras, who were involved in a final scene in our sketch and had been practicing their bit on their own, suddenly quit without warning. Hooo yes.

"Can we quit now?" I asked hopefully, but they shut me up with a quick rewrite.

Minutes before we were due, we were all in our positions backstage while waiting for the preceding act - some guy singing while playing a guitar - to finish. I was alone on one side with the four emcees of the night. They spotted me sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth and told me to chill and assured me I'd do great - though I wasn't really nervous, per se. I was actually repeating my lines in my head so I won't forget them, and tweak whatever that needed tweaking. Considering how unprepared we are, we need any and all the improvements we could get alrightfuckIwasnervoushappy?

Then, I heard applause outside. Our turn.

The skit went went smoother than in all our previous test runs, so that's good. Some told me it was funny, but most said it was too short. That's a good thing too, really. The last thing we'd want was people complaining that it was, God forbid, way too long. Everyone felt that the finale felt abrupt (but that's because, uh, like ten people walked out on us?). We were lucky that we even had a finale!

The comment that made my night, however, came from Nazree,

"Not bad for just one week of preparation."

One whole week? Try 5 hours, mate.

P.S. I heard that the modern dance group got a whole month to choreograph and practice. What gives?!

P.P.S. To those guys who quit an hour before the show: You have no balls. That's right. All you have are empty ball sacs. If you blow on each other's penises, those ball sacs will expand like little wrinkly balloons, and you can try to look inside when they are all taut and translucent but you'll find absolutely nothing. Because there are no balls in them.

Swears never to get swindled into
appearing on stage ever again,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Everything Comes and Goes

"Too many times I have told you
That I was okay
But I'm finally feeling like I can explain myself
I'm not claiming that I know everything
No, I'm not
Because you made me this way"

This Way (2009) by Michelle Branch

Not many people know this but I am a great fan of the American singer-songwriter Michelle Branch. The first song I heard from her was Everywhere back in 2001 and it was recommended to me by this older girl on ICQ who was in a band that played Michelle Branch's songs. I can't remember her name now and I don't think I ever talked to her since.

The Spirit Room (2001)

If there's any way for a person to fall in love with a song, I think I did just that the first time I heard Everywhere. It's about a guy she's obsessed with who doesn't know she exists and who she is almost-stalking apparently (or about God, according to one interview), but I didn't know that back then. I thought it was about music, and her love for it. The song surprised me because I have never heard anything like it before. How can I describe that feeling to you? Imagine an expensive yet sleazy nightclub. Imagine a grand, neon-lighted stage and bomb colours. Imagine big dance numbers, performers in the loudest, gaudiest costumes, songs with scandalous lyrics, singers with with sex appeal brimming and spilling out of corsettes, large bands with a lot of brass... then suddenly, the cacophony of showbiz was cut and the coloured lights faded. A small girl walked on stage alone with an acoustic guitar almost bigger than she is, climbed onto a stool in a white light-spot and started singing a sweet little song she wrote herself. No gimmicks. No backups. No dancers. Just the girl, her guitar and her song. That's girl is Michelle Branch. It was the first time I heard such disarming sincerity in a song, and I heard it in Everywhere. I went to a music store and bought her album, The Spirit Room, the very next day.

Hotel Paper (2003). I also bought this.

This is going to sound really cheesy but I have always felt that her songs are often about what I'm going through. It's almost like she knew exactly what it feels like to be me, or rather, to be all of us. I read a review once that says the same thing - about how teenagers can relate to her songs and words so naturally. I broke up with my first girlfriend listening to Goodbye To You. In the time I was obsessively after the girl who would be my second girlfriend a year later, Michelle Branch released her second studio album, Hotel Paper, with the wistfully hopeful One Of These Days which saw me through it. I do not know why Michelle Branch never released that song as a single - even my college roommate at the time grew to love it (from my constant playback, of course). When I broke up with that girl 3 years later, her songs from that same album, the angry Are You Happy Now? and the melancholic French-chorused 'Til I Get Over You sustained me in my 8 months of emotional wretchedness and disgusting self-pity. And when I finally and thoroughly severed all contact with the ex, the soundtrack of my relief was Breathe.

Back in high school, I suggested a music section in our Fourth Form class magazine in which we can write about our favourite musicians. And since I was the editor for those pages, guess which article was on the first page and was noticeably longer than all the others? C'mon, take a wiiillld guess.

Stand Still, Look Pretty (2006).

She discarded her pop rock roots and teamed up with Jessica Harp to form the country pop duo, The Wreckers, in 2004. I downloaded the album, heard it and decided not to buy it in the end because - well, country isn't really my kind of thing. I did, however, liked a few of their songs in which the old Michelle Branch verve shone through, but little else.

Everything Comes and Goes (hopefully 2009).

After what seemed like a really long time without any fresh solo Michelle Branch material, she finally announced a new non-Wreckers album at the end of 2007, about the time I started seeing Phoebe. You have no idea how stoked I was when I first heard about it. The fact that this album will predominantly focus on the country genre did naught to dampen my enthusiasm.

Just yesterday, I found out that Michelle Branch had released a full song from her new album for download on her website - a sort of St. Valentine's Day gift from her to her fans, says her - and I immediately went and revived my old fan account to get it.

And it was freaking AWESOME.

Anyhow, I don't think it's comparable to most of her older stuff, which I seriously recommend you to check out if you have somehow completely lived through most of the 21st century (so far) without knowing who Michelle Branch is. Even if you have, you wouldn't know from just the songs she released as singles that you're missing out on a lot of her talent that never saw daylight on MTV or radio airplay. Aside from the titles I already mentioned, do try to listen to You Set Me Free, You Get Me, Here With Me, Tuesday Morning, and Where Are You Now? - they are all very good (better than the best stuff of most musicians in their prime, in my opinion) and really deserve so much more attention.

Of course, if you're not into non-dance hits, pop rock and the fresh, crisp originality that pretty much went extinct in the mainstream a long time ago is a rarity nowadays - don't bother looking her up.

Now, we're probably just weeks away from the launch of her new album. Gosh, I can hardly breathe for the suspense! *plays 'Breathe' on playlist*

P.S. Happy St. Valentine's Day for those who celebrates it. I don't. I celebrate Qi Xi, the Chinese equivalent for seperated lovers.

P.P.S. Someone (I can't remember who) borrowed my copy of The Spirit Room years ago and did not return it. If any of you reading this has it, please return it. NOW.

P.P.P.S. I just noticed that in all the picture of her albums, her body does not face the the camera. And in all of them, she's looking over her left shoulder - except her latest one, in which she's looking over her right. Hmmm, I wonder if that means anything.

Long time fan,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Pahlawan Mall Book Fair

"Do you think I need to use anti-aging products? Just for prevention."


"You can't prevent aging"


90%? That's like free, right?

It was the second day of the New Year (I refuse to call it "Chinese New Year" because I'm Chinese, dammit) and I did what I did every year; hang out alone in a mall and reading in a Starbucks cafe. About noonish, I received a text from the Dad telling me that Time's holding a warehouse books clearance sale in Pahlawan Mall - or Megamall, according to people with no sense of scale - and that they are practically giving away books like herpes in a Roman orgy.

Since I was in Mahkota Parade at the time (because I prefer the Starbucks there), it's just a matter of crossing a street to get to it. So got to it I did, posthaste.

An all-you-can-read buffet.

I was totally prepared to be disappointed a little apprehensive considering that Times is behind the book fair. The last time I shopped in a Times bookstore was back when I was still reading Enid Blytons. Immediately after graduating from kid-lit, I have never gone back. I don't want to say this but Times has some of the lousiest selection of English young adult and adult speculative fiction selection I have ever seen. It's like their execs in charge of stocking their shelves have absolutely no idea what constitutes good taste and marketability. I can probably pick out better books pointing randomly at a list with one hand covering my eyes. Heck, a chimp can pick better books throwing monkey-shit in a library! That's the reason why Times went out of business in Malacca years ago.

There was a Times bookstore on the ground floor of Suria KLCC, I think (I'm not sure if it's still there). It was pretty pathetic, to say the least. I couldn't even find a single book I wanted in it, and what made it seem so much more pathetic to me is that Kinokuniya is in the same building, on the top floor, showing Times exactly how a real bookstore chain operates; fully-staffed information counters, helpful bookfinding clerks and, y'know, having the merit of actually selling good books. How did I survive without these last time?

Now the book fair was basically a stock clearance event - which means it consists mainly of stuff that's been sitting in their warehouse for years growing yellow and manufacturing enough dust to bury Perlis under, stuff no one wants to buy. I mean, what do you get after you take what little good out of something bad? I'll tell you what you get; the distilled, concentrated suck of Times bookstore.

It was a fest of books written third and fourth rate authors, and not even their best works too. The fantasy and science fiction novels they have are so pulpy that you'd think they'd be more at home rolled around a cardboard tube in a toilet somewhere. It made me think of just how bloody hard it is to make it in the literary world. It's hard enough scoring a book deal and getting published in the first place, but even when you succeed in doing that, it's still no guarantee that people will read your stuff - as the book fair can attest. There were a lot of self-help how-to-succeed-in-life books written by people who obviously failed at life, lousy contemporary re-writes of classics, operating manuals for computer programs I have never heard of, novels with titles which sounded similar to bestsellers and novels whose authors' nom-de-plume invokes the names of famous writers. I saw a pile of Complete's Idiot Guide to Spells and Witchcraft sitting somewhere beside a book on car loans. And I have lost count of just how many of Sisqó's biography - The Man Behing the Thong - I unearthed in the 5 hours I spent rummaging there,

People don't even read his Wikipedia article.

I have this theory that biographies about musicians and singers are written by fans who just wanted an excuse to meet and interview their idols. Celebrities write autobiographies because they have an overinflated opinion of themselves and think that people wants to know their thoughts and about their lives.

Kinda like bloggers.

Rescued from the crap pile.

Still, it wasn't a total waste of 5 hours. In my first 15 minutes there, I dusted off a perfectly good trade paperback edition of China Mievillé's Iron Council (the third of his mind-screwy Bas-Lag novels). I've been dying to read it but I have held off from buying it because the publisher published it with a lousy cover art that does not match the previous two books. At RM10 for 3 books - also considering that trade paperbacks normally sell for RM40 to R70 - it's just too good to pass up. Besides, if Pan McMillan ever come to their senses and re-publish Iron Council with the proper cover, RM 3.33 isn't much of a loss.

I bought 9 books in total for less than the price of one standard paperback, most of which are titles not on my current booklist (though I am aware of, and am somewhat interested in them),
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
  • The Legend of Luke by Brian Jacques. I have a half-heartedly maintained collection of Brian Jacques' Redwall junior fantasy epic which I indulge guiltily in from time to time. He's very formulaic, mind you, and his books are about anthropomorphic mice, hares, badgers and other woodland animals - but dammit, the man certainly knows how to keep you reading. He's like the Agatha Christie of children books.
  • Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith. It's the third novel about the psycho killer Tom Ripley (you might know him in the movie, The Talented Mr. Ripley, where he was played by Matt Damon). I have been wanting to start on this series for the longest time but somehow, I have never gotten around to do it. Oh well, I did start reading the Harry Potter series from its 4th book, and spoilt the godfather Sirius reveal in Azkaban for myself.
  • The Tribe of Tiger by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. It's a hardback non-fiction about cats. Yeap. Cats. Don'tjudgeme.
  • The Talisman of Troy by Valerio Massimo Manfredi. Well, since I loved Manfredi's historical epic trilogy about Alexander the Great (my childhood hero), maybe I'll like this one too.
  • The New Discworld Companion by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs. I helped Shaki buy this one because he's a hopeless Discworld and Pratchett fanboy. He actually bought a hardcover edition of The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld, which consists exclusively of quotes from the Discworld novels! Why isn't just buying the series enough? Why?!
  • Brett Easton Ellis' Lunar Park. It's a semi-autobiographical novelisation of the author's life (semi- because it's a ghost story). He's the guy who wrote American Psycho. A movie was adapted from in starring Christian Bale as the giddily hilarious murderous psychopath Patrick Bateman, if you remember.
  • A hardcover edition of The Last Hour of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann. I first learned about in a scary documentary on global warming hosted by Leonardo DiCaprio, The Eleventh Hour.The parts where they interviewed Thom Hartmann totally changed my views on fossil fuels, and I have been keeping an eye out for this book ever since.
Today is the last day of the book fair. In fact, it's ending in less than 3 hours. Tell you what, I'm going to head down there right now and see if they are going to mark their prices even lower. I actually found a copy of Looking for Jake by China Mievillé on the first day I was there which I stupidly did not buy (because it's not part of the deal and costed RM 10 on its own). Also, there's that chance that they have some hidden gems stashed away that they did not put on display before.

Wish me luck. I'm off.

Update: Picked up two more books; Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure (RM12) and Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel (for a tenner).

Your friendly neighborhood book nut,
k0k s3n w4i