Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Phua Chu Kang Movie Postmortem

"PCK Private Ltd! Best in Singapore and JB, and some say Batam!"

Phua Chu Kang

This is not a review.

I did not plan to write again until this weekend because I've still got a tonne of shit to do, but my commitment to the good of humanity necessitates that I relegate my more mundane chores to afterward. Word needs to get out and quick. Phua Chu Kang: The Movie is the worst, most soul-suckingly joyless piece of excrement I have ever seen in my entire life. It is made out of anti-entertainment, a substance new to science discovered by director Boris Boo, and it is an amalgam of orphan tears, terminal cancer and the still screaming souls of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If this movie has an anus, I would ram a cactus through it.

It all started during a student presentation on orthopaedic short topics in campus today when Shaki leaned over and asked me if I wanted to catch a movie before dinner. Sure thing, I said, and we perused the movie schedule using his phone. We shortlisted Friedberg and Seltzer's Vampires Suck, that new Adam Sandler bromance comedy Grown Ups and Step Up 3D, a dance flick in genuine stereoscopic 3D! That exclamation mark was warranted, by the way. Then, because the stars were aligned in an apocalyptic constellation or something, I saw something else in the listing and went, "Hey, the Phua Chu Kang movie's out!"

And Shaki was like, let's totally check this out, can we make it in time? I was like, sure, sure, I'll drive real fast. I am shaking my head at that two guys now. If I have a time machine, I'd travel right back to that moment, look me in the eyes and knee myself in the balls hard several times.

We both remembered the sitcom to be actually kind of funny back when I still watch television (haven't done so in more than 5 years). Sure, it had brows lower than the hadopelagic zone but comedy about class clashes and racial sterotypes was still something of a novelty here in the Southeast Asian region when Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd first aired (then, our favourite curly haired, yellow-booted Singaporean contractor and his wife moved to Malaysia in the spin-off series Phua Chu Kang Sdn Bhd but I have yet to see a single episode of that). The Movie is set in Kuala Lumpur, devoid of half the original core Singaporean cast. The Movie is also the Child of Satan.

About 5 minutes in, Shaki and I started talking about the movie between us because we can only go without entertainment for so long, and the only source of it available was ourselves. Don't worry because we saw it in the biggest theatre of the Malaccan GSC and the closest anyone else sat to us was like a bajillion seats away - there were 20 people max by my reckoning. So, why the fuck did this cheap small production affront to human dignity get to be shown on the biggest screen when what is essentially the best blockbuster of the year in both scale and creative talent, Inception, was projected on a tiny ass bed linen?! I knew the guy who ran the Malaccan GSC was an idiot even back when I worked part-time under him but c'mon, have some fucking business sense!

"Do you know that in the US, you can walk out of a movie and get a full refund if you do so in the first 15 minutes?" I told Shaki because I was seriously considering to do that. Let me put this in perspective: I watch about 2 to 3 films in the cinema per week and I've done so for years now - and never once, in all my life, have I ever hated a movie enough to want to leave it midway. Shaki and I would preferentially watch movies that we think are going to be crazy awesome or hilariously awful. Yes, we are two guys who would spend good money to watch bad movies because we are total nutjobs capable of seeing the entertainment value in them. But both of us despised this film so much that we were making plans to knife the people who allowed this film to happen as we were seeing it.

"I can't believe I'm saying this but I wish we're watching a 3D dance flick right now," I said and we both laughed like jackasses in that very empty theatre, the first audible peals since the movie started. No one found it funny, not even our dependable Malaysian philistines who ensured that a Senario film gets made like every year since 1999.

When I say that I have seen high school skits better than Phua Chu Kang: The Movie, that's honestly not a hyperbole. There are slapstick gags and physical comedy moments that would appear lame in a kid's cartoon, I shit you not. Obnoxious musical cues pervade every scene. Something shocking about to happen? Scare chord! Wait-a-minute moments were punctuated by the sound of record needle scratches. The quote unquote touching parts had the most typical vanilla uplifting soundtrack to go with them. I was surprised there was not a laugh track to tell us when we are suppose to laugh because I sure as heck couldn't tell. The director also kept pulling amateur camera tricks as if he learned all he knew about film-making from watching bad YouTube videos. There were ridiculous sped-up chase scenes where the camera focuses on a single setpiece and people kept doing off-screen teleportation and popping out of ridiculous places - and at one point, it became all muddled and the pursuers became the ones being chased. Haha, hila-fucking-rious.

And dialogues? Let me give you a sampler. There's an exchange between two characters, the first calling the second a cheater and the second calling the first a thief. It got repeated ad nauseam till they got confused and the first one started calling the second a thief, and the second calling the first a cheater. That's it. That's the joke. It was funnier when Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck did it in 1950. They actually had a punchline then.

Was this film shot over a weekend? I can actually believe that because I don't remember hearing anything about it prior to a fortnight ago. It's apparent to me that Boris Boo doesn't watch movies at all because there's no fucking way anyone can be this clueless about what constitutes entertainment. There was an undisguised, non-satirical advertisement for Nippon Paint grafted right into the middle of the film, and the parts of the movie before and after that felt like they were made as an afterthought. You can cut that bit out and play it on television during ad-time and no one would be able to tell that it came from a movie.

Boris Boo is the Antichrist. I just feel like throwing that out there.

"I can make a better film," I said without irony as we exited our torture chamber. Shaki agreed, also unironically. We also discussed idly if we should find out where Boris Boo lives, sneak a decapitated pig's head into his bed and shit on his lawn. Because there should be such things as justice in this world.

Caught AIDS by watching this movie,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Fiction of Love and the Power of Fiction

"It's a quarter after one
I'm all alone and I need you now

Said I wouldn't call
But I lost all control and I need you now"

Need You Now (2010) by Lady Antebellum

The same song's in the video below, but in Simlish.

Please watch before reading because this post is all about it.

Short stories are the hardest to tell. How does one convey the ideas native to the condition of being human where even the simplest, basest concepts can spark a thousand years of dissent and inspire a thousand libraries dedicated to defining their finest points? How does one do it with an economy of words on paper be it prosaic or poetic? Where does one find room within the confines of a frame in a painting - or within the time constraints of a short film or a song? It's a difficult proposition to tell a short story indeed, and to discover one which speaks to our loftiest ideals, darkest fears and most consuming desires - there's really nothing quite like it is there? No gem shines so bright as a gem of fiction, a lie, which speaks the truth like it's the single clearest thing in the world.

That's because they speak not to our minds, but to our hearts - and our hearts understand like a child would. Ask the mind about the nature of love and then ask the heart. The mind cannot comprehend it because it is indefinable, unquantifiable and unexplainable. The heart cannot answer you either but oh, it'll give you the wickedest knowing smile, that smug bastard.

The video I shared with you up there is one of many trailers for the latest expansion pack to the life-simulation game, Sims 3, and it focuses on the new professions available to the artificial people in the game. The guy Sim is obviously an inventor and his partner's an architect. The story is charmingly simple. He built a time machine, waved goodbye to his proud and supporting wife and travelled back in time. The device malfunctioned and he could not return - that sequence with the expectant look on her face, the door of the machine opening up and revealing that it's empty, and her expression in reaction to it said it all. So what did she do?

She fixed the time machine and went after her man, journeying through different time periods and having wacky adventures with the Sim versions of the band members of Lady Antebellum while trying to hunt him down - but ultimately, she returned alone to their shared laboratory workspace, defeated and forlorn. She went to bed, dreaming of happier times... when he was unexpectedly coughed up by the time machine. He goes to her, waking her up to reveal to us that she is now an old woman, all wrinkly with a headful of white hair. She had kept the device operational and the lab in the exact same condition he left it, never doubting that he would one day return. He saw that she had aged in the short period of time he spent away and he was clearly taken back. But the moment when he caressed her face and she, with her eyes closed, was enjoying the feel of a hand which she had not felt for so many lonely years - I felt my eyes welling up because it was just that beautiful.

And all that happened in a two-and-a-half-minute video made using a computer game, without any dialogues, narration or subtitles whatsoever set to a song translated to and sang in a nonsense language. The heart and climax of it lasted all of 15 seconds but it spoke of a lifetime's worth of loss, tragedy, joy and love.

The video affected me so profoundly that I immediately called Phoebe to tell her how much I love her, because I just wanted to do that so badly after seeing it. And it made me realise that I really do want to grow old with her. How did I come to these complex emotional conclusions from watching what is essentially an advertisement for a PC game?

Oh, I can't explain it. I can only give you a knowing smile.

P.S. Phoebs just told me that the Lady Antebellum song is actually pretty popular in a mainstream-ey kind of way. I wouldn't know since I have not listened to any radio stations in years. I literally heard it the first time when I saw this video. Oh well, I kinda like country. Michelle Branch is one of my favourite singer-songwriters after all.

A sucker for romance,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Last Airbender Postmortem

"There is no war within the walls of Ba Sing Se."

This is my MSN status message for months now.
It's not a direct quote actually spoken within the series but my bet is, fans would know it for sure.

Let me first preface this post by coming forthright with the fact that this is not so much a review as it is an autopsy, as it is not possible for me to offer completely objective criticisms when I am so emotionally invested in an intellectual property like Avatar: The Last Airbender. To put it mildly, the film which M. Night Shyamalan so lovingly and ineptly adapted from the much beloved Nickelodeon series has inspired murderous intents in my psyche.

From this point henceforth, I shall refer to the original Nickelodeon series as A:TLA, and the film adaptation as simply The Last Airbender, sans Avatar.

I was a late leaper onto the bandwagon as I only saw the series earlier this year after my girlfriend urged me, whom I usually ignore on such matters, to check it out - and I saw all of its three seasons or "Books" in a couple of weeks during my university exam study break, a time during which I was expected to, you know, study. Of course, my vow to always make an attempt to be familiar with the source material before watching any film adaptation (along with the recommendations from my partner-in-geek, Shaki) were also integral to my decision to see the original cartoon. To all my readers and friends who have discovered excellent books, films and TV shows through my urgings; I urge you to trust my taste once more and go watch A:TLA, the series - and pretend that the movie, currently playing in theatres, doesn't exist.

I have read a number of reviews of M. Night's jerkwad of a film from multiple non-fans of the source material which praised the mythology behind the world, the special effects and fight choreography while rightfully deriding the acting, direction and the script. All the good things they have mentioned should be credited to the original animated series, which did them several order of magnitudes better (which people should totally look into if they are intrigued by the world Aang inhabits after watching the film). For the last three things which made The Last Airbender a bad movie, the blame lies solely on M. Night's shoulders.

The Last Airbender
I know the poster looks cool, but seriously, fuck M. Night Shyamalan.

For the plot synopsis, go look at Wikipedia or something. This post is long enough as it is.

My Expectations.

Unlike most film geeks, my regard for M. Night Shyamalan as a writer and director had been lukewarm at its best. I have decided not to see The Sixth Sense after having its ultimate twist spoilt for me through pop-cultural osmosis but of Shyamalan's body of work, I have at least watched Unbreakable (incredible concept, great film), Signs (the stupidest alien invasion story ever; wrapped in religious themes of the "everything happens for a reason" persuasion), The Village (mostly meh, but what the fuck?) and The Lady in the Water (has the same boring religious themes of Signs, but this time, M. Night cast himself in the role of the messiah). Just to be clear, I have no problem with religious and spiritual themes done right, my being an atheist notwithstanding (I actually liked Alex Proyas' Knowing and Ridley Scott's director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven, for example), but Mr Shyamalan's brand of existential wankery really doesn't do it for me.

M Night
No, you're not fixing anything. Don't touch anything I like ever again.

What really piqued my interest in his adaptation of A:TLA is that one, he's not making a movie based on an original story he wrote himself and two, he's a real fanboy of the animated series! That's the vibe I got from him after reading several interviews and press releases of him talking lovingly about the world and mythos of the series. He liked it so much he volunteered to make the movie! And he's also doing it for his daughters, sort of! Oh, I hope they grow up hating him for destroying their favourite show.

It simply does not compute for me that someone with so much respect for the source material can fuck it up so royally.

Anyway, The Last Airbender was released in theatres over at the States a month ahead of us, and was almost universally panned. While I did not exclude the possibility that M. Night can birth another flop, I really didn't expect the deluge of hate this film was getting. It is literally one of the worst - if not the worst - reviewed film this year. That's the impression Shaki and I had going in last week. We were quite sure it's going to be fantastically unwatchable but we still felt compelled to pay our last respects. Besides, there might be a few laughs in it for us. And there was, but a few.

About Racebending.

There was a huge outcry during the film's production because M. Night "whitewashed" the main cast. It is most succinctly explained by this infographic which was making its rounds on the internet,

"Now that you put it that way..."

M. Night, a brown guy himself, mind you, thought that all the Inuit or Oriental protagonists should be white and the entire evil Fire Nation (the fairest people in the world of A:TLA) should all be made brown. While I agree it was one of the most contrived example of "white people good, brown people bad" casting decision in cinematic history, it honestly didn't bother me all that much in this case - and I'm speaking here as a yellow guy. But as a side note, fuck that Chinese people are yellow shit. The Simpsons are yellow. I'm a very light shade of brown, thank you very much.

Of course, I live in a country (one my parents and I were born in) where I am discriminated against politically, religiously and economically based on my ethnicity according to the Constitution and the law while all the vast majority of the Malay people here are complicit in perpetuating such injustices upon all the other minorities. It's like the apartheid in principle here but with less press. Not seeing people of my own race rightfully represented in a film is honestly not that big a deal.

M. Night said that he casts his actors according to how well suited they are to the parts regardless of their races and he went on record saying that the ones he got are the absolute best he auditioned - to which I shall reply, "My ass."

Nicola Peltz as a block of driftwood Katara.

Still, say what you will about the race issue, but I think the girl they got to play Katara was as close to a Mongoloid as they'll ever get. Was what I said offensive to people with Down Syndrome? I sure hope so. Being compared to Nicola Peltz should be offensive to anyone. I'm not sure if we can even blame M. Night's direction here but as Haley Joel Osment proved in The Sixth Sense, the guy was perfectly capable of working with child actors. That expression you see in the still above; that's pretty much her default look through the entire movie. Eyes dull and unfocused. Jaw slack with idiocy. Plus, the lines M. Night wrote for her were bad enough without her stilted and disinterested delivery. She made me think that I was watching a high school stage production.

Noah Ringer as Aang, who is all glowy because he's in the Avatar state - something the film did not explain.

I was initially happy with M. Night's choice of Noah Ringer as Aang, the eponymous Last Airbender. The kid's an actual martial artist and looks like he has a mixed ancestry too - though the fact that he's really white isn't a strong point of contention for most people because Aang does look kind of ethnically universal in the animated series. I got a little worried when I saw him in the teaser and subsequent trailers because they did not depict any scenes of him delivering any dialogues; and I thought he was far broodier than the animated Aang, who is actually an optimistic, childish and fun-loving kid. It was only when I saw Ringer on the big screen that I realised that he and Peltz were in competition with each other in some sort of bizarro world Special Olympics for Bad Child Actors. To be fair though, I felt that Ringer's physical acting in the action scenes were commendable, if unremarkable.

I might get some flak for saying this but I thought Dev Patel (of The Slumdog Millionaire fame) was fun to watch as Prince Zuko, which I though is a pretty hammy character in A:TLA to begin with - but he did get one of the most ridiculous scenes I have ever seen in any movie ever (more on that in a bit). Shaun Toub, who played Uncle Iroh, was probably the best actor in the cast, but there was honestly not a lot of room for him to flex his acting chops here. And speaking of chops, he's certainly not fat enough.

Cliff Curtis was Fire Lord Ozai, the menacing off-screen Big Bad in the first season. If I remember correctly, we did not even get to see his face until the second season but in this film, he was brought up front early, dissipating much of the tension his non-presence brought to the narrative.

Comedian Aasif Mandvi plays Zhao, Commander and later Admiral of the Fire Nation's fleet of iron-ships and I had to stifle my laughter every time he says his own name, "Zhao", with an Indian accent (and he says it every chance he gets, just in case people have forgotten it in the last 5 minutes). But then again, every time he came on screen was a cause for giggles.

Aasif Manvi
I mean, just look at this guy!

Now that we're on the subject of mispronouncing names, I read that they actually hired a linguist to get a better handle on how the characters' names should be pronounced in their cultural contexts - which is odd considering how little the production cares about representing the correct race. Aang (rhymes with "bang") became Ahng. Sokka and Iroh were likewise mangled. I'm an Asian guy used to Asian names, and while I agree that the changes did make them more phonetically accurate, fans of the series - the main source of revenue - is going to find the alteration jarring. Personally, I loath how Aang is pronounced in the film but I am completely willing to forgive this in Sokka and Iroh's case since I pronounce them as "soh-ka" and "ee-roh" anyway, in spite of my girlfriend's innumerable frustrated attempts to correct me.

The only time the racial dissonance became really noticeable to me was during a dinner scene in a Fire Nation warship where everyone was eating out of claypots and Shaki, an Indian bloke, cheerily commented, "Oh, they are all eating bak kut teh! With chopsticks!"

My Autopsy Report.

Do not see this movie, but if you have to, do not see it in 3D. While I did not see it in 3D personally, I know for a fact that it was up-converted from your standard two-dimensional footage like Clash of the Titans and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland were, and we all know how the fake 3D in that two movies sucked. One reviewer I've read, in particular, said it was like watching a movie through "a dirty screen door". I don't understand why anyone would pay extra just to see a shittier version of the same movie. Do a bit of research, people, please.

The script for this film, credited to one Mr Shyamalan, was absolute trash. There were comedy gems like Zuko's "Bring me your elderly!" and Yue's "We have to show The Fire Nation that we believe in our beliefs just as much as they believe in their beliefs." There was a scene when Aang and company came across a concentration camp full of crestfallen Earth Kingdom prisoners nestled within a fucking canyon, and our hero actually had to remind them that there was earth under their feet, that there was earth all around them, before they actually had the stone (sorry, bad pun) to revolt. The equivalent scene in the animated series made a hell lot more sense since the earthbenders were incarcerated on an island build entirely out of metal.

The scene which absolutely took the cake for me was Zuko emo-ing about his daddy issues to an unconscious Aang. Never mind how stupid it is to be confiding in your enemy in the middle of a full-blown siege, but why the fuck was he talking to some kid who was clearly comatose?! It's appears to me that he's explaining his own sob story to himself, and boy did I laugh long, hard and loud at that. There are good exposition scenes and bad exposition scenes, and M. Night has officially broken through the bottom of the barrel of it with this and several other painfully interjectory voice-overs narrated by Katara of all people, who we really don't want to hear more of.

The extras in this film provided the most entertainment for me (aside from the many "I am Commander Zhao" ham-and-cheese scenes). There's that memetic earthbender dance-off scene, of course. And during the Fire Nation's invasion of the Northern Water Tribe, people were mostly just running around comically and aimlessly. One women was just standing calmly in the middle of the melee, as if waiting for a cue. Then she suddenly dropped the basket she was carrying and started fleeing. I think M. Night is really having lots of trouble directing large numbers of people in elaborate scenes.

The pacing of this film is scattershot and viewers unfamiliar with the story might find things a bit epileptic and disjointed. M. Night tried to showcase too many highlights of the animated series without preserving their heart and soul. While an epic, overarching storyline pervades throughout the series, there is always that lighthearted feel to Aang's adventures. M. Night sucked all the joy out of it and what we got from him is the dry bones of the plot. I could still see some glimmer of M. Night's talent as a technical director in the way some of the shots were composed in The Last Airbender but he really should bin his pen because he has proven time and time again that he can't write for shit.

What I Like About the Film.

Incredibly enough, I didn't hate everything about The Last Airbender. What pained me most was the supercriminal waste of potential it represents, and I could clearly see a genuinely great movie underneath all the horrible acting, script and and direction. In other words, we would have a film franchise which I believe can rival the Harry Potter films in both scope and mythology if we had a director proven at adapting copious amounts of story elements at the helm. Like Peter Jackson, for example.

One of my favourite things from the animated series was the martial arts element associated with the art of bending the elements - which, to my untrained eyes, looked stunningly authentic. Such depth is almost unheard of in what is essentially a kid's show. Waterbending is quite obviously based on Tai Chi Chuan and firebending has its roots in the Nothern Shaolin school of kung fu. The earthbenders uses the stolid Hung Gar style and Aang, the last airbender, utilises Baguazhang. The fight choreography in The Last Airbender followed the philosophy of the series loyally, even if M. Night decided that the benders should have to do far more elaborate actions before moving anything (reminding me of combo keys in fighting games).

That Cool Escape Scene
"Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start!"

The escape of Aang from Zhao's stronghold with the Blue Spirit's help was a pretty enjoyable sequence, and it climaxed with Aang standing in the middle of some kind of training ground surrounded by Fire Nation goons. It was a long continuous shot where Aang uses airbending to flip heavy looking wooden panels open and close at his attackers. There are several more comparable setpieces in the film but if I'm ever rewatching them again, it'll be through a YouTube montage of the fight scenes exclusively. In fact, that's what people should do instead of seeing the actual film.

The costume design was also incredibly faithful to the series and the CGI used to animate the element-bending effects were also top notch; both of which we also don't need to thank M. Night Shyamalan for.

There was a single massive change to the conclusion of the film which departed from what happened in the A:TLA series, one which I actually thought was an improvement over the original. To venture into spoilers here for the rest of this paragraph, Aang essentially routed the Fire Nation by raising a tsunami over their armada in an overwhelming display of raw power, without betraying his pacifistic principles. In the series, he merged with the Ocean Spirit (which took the form of a koi fish) and became a titanic, monstrous being the fans lovingly dubbed as "Koizilla" and he wreaked holy and probably fatal vengeance on the Fire Nation troops. Granted, that would have looked awesome on screen as well.

The downside to this change is that it will render most of Aang's angst (haha) in the second season unintelligible and yes, M. Night is going to be adapting the second season of the series as well. Cod help us all.

In Summary.

If you haven't already caught this in the cinema, please vote with your wallet and refrain from supporting bad films such as The Last Airbender, and please, check out the wonderful animated series it was based upon instead. If you're planning to see it for its "so bad it's good" value, I caution you to just download it illegally when the DVD rip comes up in torrent because most of the laughs it got out of me were bitter. If you're intimately acquainted with the original series, you would have already made up your mind to either boycott or see it, so nothing I say will persuade you otherwise.

P.S. This is just something that bothers me immensely (warning: spoilers for the series!) but in the film, Aang ran away after he was told that he's the Avatar and that he cannot have a family. This is in direct contradiction to the animated canon where Avatar Roku's lineage played a crucial role in the storyline.

P.P.S. I realise that I have left out discussing Sokka entirely (who is my favourite character after Toph, by the way). What little we saw of Jackson Rathbone in the role suggests that he could have been good, but...

P.P.P.S. My most anticipated films this year are Kick-Ass, Inception, The Last Airbender and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Both Kick-Ass and Inception did not disappoint, and now that Scott Pilgrim is already out across the Pacific, the reviews filtering through to me pretty much confirms that it is going to be as unbelievably good as I expect it to be. Now, I'll just have to wait till November when it opens in Malaysia. Fuck.

Thinks M. Night is a stupid name anyway,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, August 14, 2010

To Offend an Atheist

"I hate to break it to you, babe
But I'm not drowning
There's no one here to save

Who cares if you disagree?
You are not me
Who made you king of anything?
So you dare tell me who to be?
Who died and made you king of anything?"

King of Anything (2010) by Sara Bareilles

Looks like I have finally found my atheist anthem.

I had an MSN chat session in the not-too-distant past with a Christian med school colleague, and in that conversation, he sat his ass firmly on the high horse and tried to play the "holier-AND-wiser-than-thou" older guy "who-knows-stuff-you-don't". That wouldn't have worked even if he was older than I am but the fact being that he wasn't, it was an especially egregious example of the tactic. He wasn't the only person to have used such non-arguments against my position of atheism, but he struck me as the most tactless one - and he had the distinction of being the Christian who turned me, almost overnight, from a soft atheist who thinks that faith is harmless into a hardline, card-carrying "antitheist" who actively opposes religion and superstitions. I'm like a surprise mailbomb. You can never tell when I'll explode in your face.

In fact, you can actually guesstimate when that exchange took place by seeing when my posts about religion in this weblog turned abruptly from polite, non-offensive prattle to the "go shove your prophets and gods up your ass" versions.

Now forgive me for I would have to paraphrase the statements he made, but I suspect that my effort would actually be an improvement over his choice of wording. Hey, at least when I'm being an arrogant condescending jerk, I make no pretensions to being otherwise,

"Before discovering Christ, my life was meaningless. Now I have a purpose, and I am doing the Lord's work. What is the meaning of your life?"

To believe in something based on emotional appeal and simple-minded faith is the opposite of having an actual purpose, if you ask me. It's like standing at a crossroad and picking a direction at random because you have a hunch that that's the right way to Rome, and then letting that certainty sustain you as you drive on and on, not knowing how far it is you'll have to go before you arrive. Purpose? Meaning? Don't make me laugh.

And the "Lord's work" are always expressions of a believer's own biases supported by the biases of nomadic bronze age shepherds and people who thought that praying for a cure was the absolute bleeding edge of medical science. Oh, I see so much more of the ugliest sides of humanity in the Bible books, than I can see the grace of divinity. It's all about people desperately wanting a god to condone what they do, from discriminating against homosexuals down to killing an entire race and keeping their women for rape. I'll quote just that one verse because it's ample,

"And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:

But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee."

Deuteronomy 20:13-14

Does this sound like the words of a moral, righteous, loving God? Or a wartime propaganda of a theocratic nation telling her soldiers that murder, pillage and rape is what God wants them to do so they shouldn't need to feel bad about it? Which is more likely? This is why I consider all Christians who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God to be amoral sociopaths.

Anyway, he was not merely "witnessing" in the Christian sense of the word, no. He was also implying that my life is both meaningless and purposeless. That I am empty and lost, and in need of some external guidance. But I know precisely what I want to do in life, thank you very much. I have no need of squinting at patterns in ancient texts and waiting for a godly voice in my head to tell me what I should be doing.

"What you're going through is a phase. Every young person feels the need to rebel. Come to God - all you need to do is just open your heart to Him."

Why the fuck do so many Christians and other religious sects think that atheists are "defying" the Creator? That's a misconception and religious people need to know how offensive that sentiment is to atheists. We simply don't believe that God exists! No matter how many times you ask me to close my eyes and to try and invite Jesus into myself, I would only open my eyes feeling like an idiot each time.

If you showed me an abstract painting saying, 'This is beautiful! Look at it!' and all I can see are nonsensical squiggles; I would be lying if I answer, 'Yes, I see what you mean. It's beautiful'. You can make me look at that painting everyday but if all I can see is nonsense, that's what I'm going to think it is: nonsense. It's not that I am refusing to see it. I honestly CAN'T see it. To say that I am "rebelling" against the notion of its alleged beauty is stupid.

Is God okay with me lying and saying, 'Yes, I believe. I accept the Lord, Jesus Christ, as my saviour' when my logical faculty and all my sensibilities reject that notion? Will this save me from eternal torment in hellfire? I think not.

I understand that Christians believe a non-believers denial of Jesus to be a sin, punishable by everlasting torture - and this includes atheists, who are honestly incapable of believing in it. This is why a lot of Christians like to paint everyone else as being "rebellious" and "defiant" because that way, they'd feel less bad condoning what their God will do to these innocent people eventually.

What a fucking evil and stupid religion.

Black Square (1913) by Kazimir Malevich; an example of abstract art - in case you need one.

"So far in life, you have always felt self-sufficient and have not encountered any problem you can't solve. It might be different if your life is harder - when you realise that some things are simply out of your ability to fix them. It's in those times that you'll need God."

It's a variant of the "no atheists in foxholes" aphorism, and it is also highly, highly offensive to atheists. It implies that we are a cowardly and changeable lot. It suggests that we atheists are just "playtheists", and that we would all come around to Jesus once we face enough hardship. Or once we are stared down by the prospect of death.

Tell me, when has God solved anything for anyone - other than giving the false assurance that it's all in His plan and that it'll turn out for the best? What annoys me most is that the person who said the bold and bolded statement above thinks that I have not encountered any difficulties in life which are simply out of my control. Believe it or not, I have, and the ability to accept that fact is not exclusive to the faithful.

Also, it's just not true that there are no atheists in foxholes. Take the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, for example. Their motto? "Atheists in Foxholes." These are people who have gone through the most traumatic experiences a human can go through, coming under fire in trenches and seeing their comrades get blown to bits before their eyes. They went through all that with their atheism intact and some of them were actually religious to begin with but lost their faith on the battlefield. I'd like him to repeat what he said to me to these guys.

"Maybe one day when you're older, you'll change your mind about God."

Now, what he's really saying is that he's wise beyond his years and that I am just an immature kid. The subtext was obvious, and it's condescending and offensive beyond belief. I have since repeated this statement to a large number of other people - Christians and non-Christians alike - and they all invariably thought it was either a very arrogant or a very ignorant thing to say.

While no proselytiser is likely to ever achieve any success with me, this guy stood out as being astoundingly ineffectual and is probably responsible for actually causing a lot of people to turn away from Christianity - if only to distant themselves from catching whatever virus of stupid he caught from his religiousity.

Sometimes, I wonder how these people even get converts.

"You sound so innocent
All full of good intent
Swear you know best

But you expect me to
Jump up on board with you
And ride off into your delusional sunset"

King of Anything (2010) by Sara Bareilles

Doesn't care much for abstract art,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, August 13, 2010

Make Me

"Motivate me,
I wanna get myself out of this bed.
Captivate me,
I want good thoughts inside of my head."

The Motivation Proclamation (2000) by Good Charlotte

Today is Friday the 13th and the unluckiest thing I had to endure today was a 4 hour long quasi-motivational speech on how to be a physician (or as I like to call it: a fate worse than death). It was not the speaker's fault, this - he's one of the most likeable persons I ever had telling me stuff he thought I ought to know better about. He's quite unlike the last bloke my college booked a few months ago; that one was an annoying go-getter and boastful prick who should be immortalised in bronze as the epitomical monument to douchebaggery. You see, I am immune to being motivated. My default attitude towards anything anyone says is one bathed in industrial-strength scepticism.

Anyway, it's not that the speech I received today wasn't useful. It's just that it's already part of my personal philosophy, but in a less sincere and far more sociopathic form. I am the choir, if slightly twisted.

Now, I have like half a dozen posts I have been working on, and I would like to finish a couple of them this weekend. They are,

  1. An anecdotal on Beverly's visit to Malacca (she's "b" in the chatbox and "février" in the comments section - y'know, the one who appears to dislike everything I write).
  2. A postmortem of M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender from the perspective of a fan of the animated TV series.
  3. A medical-sciencey article on why eating durian and boozing at the same time is a Bad Idea.
  4. A Christian colleague about my age told me that my "resistance" to God is a phase, that I have not gone through enough hardships in life, and that I will eventually come around when I am older and wiser - I'd like love to write about that.
  5. A review of Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsel - a fantasy novel based on the Brothers Grimm fairytale, Snow-White and Rose-Red.
  6. A piece on how I face death as an atheist. And also about a genuine near-death experience I had earlier this year.
  7. A fucking explanation on why I fucking cuss, just for fucks, in my fucking posts.

I like to ask you, my readers, to tell me which item in the list of drafts above you want me to complete first. Which one would you be most interested in reading? I may not necessarily show it, but I really appreciate my small pool of readers - some of which have followed me since the inception of this weblog, a few became great friends, and one became Phoebe. The thing I appreciate most is the input,
the comments, because I believe that blogging is in its essence a freely social enterprise. Thanks for listening, and thanks for responding to me all these years.

And to you wonderful people, I share my mind and intimate my life. I hope that that's enough.

P.S. My favourite number is 13, by the way. Just throwing that out there.

k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Do You See Time?

"Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them."

Dion Boucicault

I just thought of something pretty neat.

Now, our brains are poorly wired to understand the concept of time, and we often associate the "flow" of time with Euclidean vectors and shapes. We then break time into discrete absolute units like years and then break those years into days, hours, minutes and seconds - but if Einstein's anyone to go by (and you can bet he is), time is a relative creature.

Most people in the world visualise the hours of a day (or rather, a half day) with a clockwise cyclical circle. This is most certainly a conditioned mental image because most of us grew up telling time using an analogue clock. So if I am to make an educated guess, I'd say that a person who grew up without ever seeing that iconic 12-hour face would see a wholly different shape of his day in his head. If I ever produce a kid, I'd try teaching him to tell the time using sundials and see how his mind's eye perceive the daily hours - among other messed-up, nurture-type psych experiments I've thought up over the years. This is also why I shouldn't be allowed to procreate.

Then, there are time units which are much less ubiquitously and graphically represented and thus, would figure very differently in different individuals. Take the 7-day week, for example. This is how I see the week in my mind,

Shape of My Week

I consider Monday the first day of the week. The weekdays are arranged in a horizontal row from left to right, bowing slightly upwards. My Saturday and Sunday are "situated" below them, swinging from right to left in the curve of a smile. It's a bit like a semicircle, looping back again and again on itself.

The girlfriend sees her entire week in a straight horizontal line running from Monday to Sunday which rewinds back to the start of every new week.

Let's scale it up to a month, shall we? Phoebs' month has its days arranged in rows of seven. The days in each row runs from left to right and subsequent rows are placed below the preceding ones. The leftover days of every month (except non-leap year Februaries) would form the fifth and final row. It's essentially how a calendar page is configured.

Me? This is how my month looks like,

The Progression of My Month

I visualise the progression from one month to the next as a "step" up from left to right, with the previous month vaporising away as soon as the transition is complete. I also break every month into two parts: the first 19 days being one bit and all the remaining days being the second. There's also a "step" to climb between day 19 and day 20. Do not ask me why I think this way because I haven't a fucking clue. It just feels right.

Anyway, when I zoom out to the scale of a year, the stepladder effect disappears and I get a smooth, flat line heading eastward,

The Direction of My Year

My vision of time itself is also a left-to-right horizontal line. I fancy that this is probably the influence of how historical and scientific timelines are traditionally depicted. Unlike mine, Phoebs' year is oriented vertically from up to down. And she envisions the concept of time as going forward, with the past positioned behind her. Her predilection might have been persuaded by the English language (the tongue she thinks in) which does in fact assign such arbitrary prepositions to the the past and future.

And I've even heard of a guy who sees the months of a year as points on an analemma. What a nerd.

I don't know about you but I find this to be fascinating stuff. All my life, it never occurred to me until now that all of us perceive time in different fashions. Knowing how someone would process time feels a bit like taking a tiny glimpse into how his or her mind operates. It might not be terribly informative, I know, but it's still pretty damn cool.

So how do you see time? Describe your week, month or year here. Enquiring minds want to know!

A step from December,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Day is Long and Fraught with Unexpectations

"Whisk me away, I'll be yours for a day"

Clean White Love (2009) by Lisa Mitchell

"You really are thinner!" she exclaimed brightly, looking up at me from below my chin. "I had to like, stretch my arms aaall around you before this..."

She closed her eyes for a second and laid her cheek against my chest, sighing. Then with a start, she recoiled and pushed me away with a laugh. "Security camera!" she said, glancing upwards coyly at a corner of the elevator's ceiling over my shoulder.

Saturday was a Phoebe Day. She spent the most part of her week-long sabbatical in her house in Pea Jay, occasionally accompanying her mother to the University Hospital to visit her recently stroke-stricken grandmother - while I spent the same time locked out of sleep and basic human rights in the final few days of my OB/GYN posting. Living a relationship separated by seven hours of hard driving on the North-South Expressway, we have to be like thieves. We have to steal our time together.

Phoebs Coffee Jelly Orange Carrot Cake
Phoebs with her favourite overpriced coffee. That's my slice of carrot (which Phoebs hates) and mandarin orange cake.

We didn't do anything too exciting, of course, but lovers know the best moments rarely are. We first spent a half hour at the hospital where I received a righteous round of bollocking from a nurse for stealing a look at Phoeb's grandma's case sheet. I could probably tell her that as a medical student, I am part of the fraternity, but I didn't have identification on my person at the time so it was something I did not dispute. Besides, it's just so frightfully hard to get worked up on a Phoebe Day, you know. There's just this prevailing mood in the air that's more than a little zen. People on the streets can break into song and dance and it would feel apropos.

Then, we lunched at our favourite restaurant which I had to solely drive to the middle of Kay Elle for - but that's okay. There are just some things that are never too far to travel for, as any bloke in a long distance relationship can attest to. We got the same table we sat at the last time we were there, which was only appropriate. This is precisely the sort of little moments I said we have to steal, luv. I take that this desire for sameness and symmetry as an indication we haven't tire of each other yet. The yearning for novelty is usually a reliable sign that things are getting old - if it does not murder a relationship outright, with a candlestick, in the billiard room (and you just know a Miss Scarlett is involved somehow).

It's not that our relationship is completely devoid of novelties though,

Hajime Wasabi Aisu Kurimu
Wasabi ice-cream topped with azuki beans.

It was not how one would imagine it to taste like at all - there's just the subtlest suggestion of freshness and excitement of wasabi against a canvas of sweetness. I can probably work this into a metaphor of some kind but that would be far too easy for words.

Incidentally, that was Phoebe's pick from the dessert menu. Me? I went straight for my utmostest favouritest ice-cream flavour in the cosmos: black sesame,

Hajime's Kurogoma Aisu Kurimu
Kurogoma aisu kurimu! I'll never tire of the kooky Japanese transliteration of the phrase "ice-cream", I swear.

Somehow, my appetite to try something new almost always get overridden by my longing for what I already know I love with surety. There's not necessarily a subtext here.

Then, I drove Phoebs and I all the way to 1 Utama because it's the mall she likes best and one which I like least.

"Aww, that's because you had bad memories of your ex here," she teased, knowing that scar tissue doesn't hurt when prodded at.

"Hardy har har," I said. "I don't like it because it's too damn big - and it doesn't even have a decent bookstore."

As I walked past a car in the parking basement, the girl in the driver's seat looked straight at me and I saw the instant rush of recognition in her eyes. She knows me, but unfortunately, the same can't be said for my side. It's very likely that I did know her but I have such a bad head for faces that most people I have encountered in life quickly turn into these vague, faceless shades in my memory bank. Too often have people who appear to be perfect strangers have come right up to me, shaking my hand and asking if I remember them. As a result, I have become quite practiced at mimicking that fancy-seeing-you-here expression and replying, "Yes, I remember you! HOW have you been?!" without missing a beat. This time, I bother not.

The last paragraph has nothing to do with anything whatsoever, by the way.

Speaking of exes and of flashes of recognition, Phoebs and I ran into my first ex (not to be confused with the Ex-Grrrfriend™, who's ex number two) at a Thai apparel store which shares the same name as my otorhinolaryngology Professor. Our eyes met just barely and I spotted that unmistakable flicker of recognition on her face, but she did not say hi. But then again, neither did I. That's strange because just months ago, I ran into her in a mall in Malacca and we made some smallish talk between us. Maybe she just couldn't be sure who I was because I had lost so much weight since. Yes, I like this explanation. I'm going to run with it.

"Phoebs!" I said excitedly after Ex One™ (Eximus Prime™?) disappeared into a changing room. "I think I just saw my first ex, but I can't be sure!"

"Where? Where?!"

When she emerged from the changing closet later and started chatting on her phone, I told Phoebs, "Quick, let's go browse some racks near her. I can confirm it after I hear her voice!"

And sure enough, it was her alright. And yes, I am such a freaking child.

"She sounds really matured," Phoebs commented afterwards, her voice sounding so very childlike in contrast. For the hundredth and certainly not the last time, I thought Phoebs should go into voice-acting.

"Yeah, womanly," I said, "I was fourteen, and that can be a real turn on for a kid that age. So, feeling any twinge of irrational jealousy?"

replied Phoebs, "Should I?"

"I dunno, girls get jealous easily, don't they? They tend to do things like think about their boyfriends having once made out with their exes and stuff, for example."

"Wow, thanks for reminding me,"
said Phoebs, glaring.

"You're welcome."

Haagen Dasz Dark Chocolate Orange
Häagen-Dazs dark chocolate orange ice-cream. Phoebs hates chocolate more than carrots.

On our way back from 1 Utama to meet her parents for dinner, my jalopy coughed and hiccoughed, and appeared to have taken up smoking to fit in with the cool kids. The temperature gauge was on its way to the ceiling, so I had to kill the engine a little way from Phoebe's house. I popped the hood to do a diagnostic on the situation, but the parts just weren't speaking to me. There's no note taped under the bonnet saying, "Don't worry! It's just the X. Just do Y and it'll be hunky dory!". All I know about cars entails checking the radiator water and the engine oil, both of which were in the blue that morning before I started my journey.

We hoofed the thankfully short distance back to Phoeb's place to see if I can get ahold of a mechanic's number - which Phoebs' mom readily had on hand. It took the guy and three of his mates more than an hour to make it but the wait was secondary to the fact that I was the sore thumb causing the delay of that night's dinner plans. It did not make for the most sterling of impressions, I know. One of Phoebs' cousins from Taiwan was in the house at the time - and like in a scripted family sitcom, another aunt and cousin paid Phoebs' household a surprise visit in the interim as well.

The mechanic, who coincidentally shares my first name, finally turned up at about eight-ish. Now, if I get this correctly: he said that a tube of some sort connecting my radiator to the engine have sploded, and all the water went bye-bye. How soon can you get it running? Tomorrow at about 3:00 pm, said he. Splendid! My day trip just turned into an overnighter. How much is this going to cost me? And the man said, "We'll see. I'll call you before doing anything." It was pretty dark out so I could not see if his pupils had turned into dollar signs. It did not, however, require a tow though so that's something.

Dinner was a kingly spread at some place famous for its roast duck, courtesy of Phoebs' Dad. Too bad they ran out of duck by the time we got there, no thanks to their daughter's boyfriend. Phoebs didn't care because she never much cared for duck anyway. Yeah, I know - she dislikes a heckuva lots of things, right?

Question and dilemma: What should a guy do if his girlfriend's father offers him beer? Male readers (I know I have some), I need you to weigh in on this. Phoeb's Dad ordered a large bottle of Guinness and poured me some before clinking glasses with me. Now, I didn't want to be be rude and refuse it - especially since I can't deploy my usual excuse that I have to drive - so I soldiered on and bottomed up my drink. That's what I do with food and beverages I dislike. I tend to try to get rid of them as quickly as I can (I dislike beer in general, and I find the sour taste of stout to be off-putting). Then Phoebs Dad poured me another, and another. Then he ordered another large bottle. So, yeah.

"Have you ever drank so much before?" asked Phoebs Mom almost rhetorically, laughing as Phoebs Dad filled my glass yet again. I just laughed along and wisely refrained from commenting on it.

"You failed the boyfriend test," Phoebs ribbed me later, "You should have refused."

"Hey, I don't want to come across as some sort of prude!"

After dinner, Phoebs' Dad took off, presumably to meet up with his buddies, and Phoebs Mom got the job of unloading me off at my aunt's place - but that was not to be because unexpected events come in mobs and droves. Phoebs' grandmother developed some respiratory complications and everyone in the household, barring Phoebs and her sister, headed for the hospital. So, circumstance dictated that I had to call my aunt to get me and I took to the streets of the suburbs of Pea Jay at about midnight to get to somewhere more accessible to my aunt, like the Quill 9 corporate building near Rothman's circle, say. Now, I have been mugged and beaten up before back when I was studying in SS15 so consequentially, I have become hyper-aware of my surroundings and oversuspicious of strangers. It's basically like a really lame superpower, but a useful one nonetheless. There were two other instances when I got pursued by muggers after that but I managed to outrun them both times; mainly because I keep a mental tab of everyone around me at any given time so the moment any lowlifes start acting of place, I am primed and ever-ready to take off.

This time around, however, I ran into my colleague, Jun Mun, who was just leaving the nearby Starbucks and he insisted that I should wait for my aunt in his car. It was certainly a day of surprises and extraordinary happenstances. The short chat we had revealed something about him that I ought to have known a year ago but I guess I'm just not a very good friend. I am so self-absorbed and get so caught up with my own life sometimes that the lives of people around me can figuratively cross-dress or get a nosejob and I wouldn't notice anything's amiss.

I left Kay Elle the next day after picking up my ride from the mechanic's at, as he promised, 3:00 pm. That's a surprise in itself, and a pleasant one too. The repair bill came up to RM 120, but that's only because I sicced my Dad on them (and the man loves a good challenge at bargaining). The girlfriend departed from the city for Butterworth at about the same time I did and there was no nick in the time in which we can meet, even for a minute, to say goodbye.

Oh, let us just not say goodbye ever, darling. It's that simple.

Truly yours,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, August 06, 2010

¡Eye Yay Yay!

"Sleep... Oh! how I loathe those little slices of death."

Author unknown

Commonly attributed, in different wordings, to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jules Verne.

Oh hi, readers. It's been almost a week since I last said anything here. It has been a long and unapologetic week. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights all owed me entire nights' sleep I'll never get back. Thursday stole two hours of my life and Friday - today - was quite the bitch.

I don't know if this anyone noticed this, or if it was just the cracks finally showing in the workings of my grey matter - but three days can easily melt into a single protracted, lumbering franken-day when they aren't sectioned neatly by sleep. By Wednesday, I still felt like I'm in still entrenched in Sunday's lethargy and my subconsciousness was obliviously complaining, "Hey, why the fuck am I slaving away on a weekend?" And I also realise that if you deprive your brain of its privilege to dream, it'll start turning real-life into a dream. Now, I have never stayed awake more than three days in a row, but these are envelopes begging to be pushed.

I read somewhere that it is possible to hack our own minds into surviving on only 2 to 3 hours of sleep daily, and I must admit that I see the allure of having such an ability. It's a form of polyphasic sleep pattern called the Uberman's sleep schedule, and it's basically training yourself to cut down on all the time spent in stage 1 to stage 4 non-REM sleep and to go straight into the mental reboot of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Ever watched a dreaming sleeper? Neither have I but if we did, we would be able to see his or her eyes move jerkily under the eyelids in REM sleep. By taking only 20 to 30-minutes nap every 6 hours (and weathering this torturous regime for up to ten days), it is theoretically possible to force your brain into going straight for REM sleep every time you nap.

The idea of having a lot more time awake is very, very attractive to me because my candle's been burning from both ends for some years now and to paraphrase Tolkien, there's not enough butter, or something very much like that. As a result of trying to balance my passions with being a final year medico, I now subsist on about four hours of sleep daily. I am in love with life, and is drunk from all her pleasure. There are so many books I want to read; so many films I want to see; so many good food I want to taste, digest and make into poop. I want to drive on the streets of Melaka in the dead of night with the company of my thoughts. I want to write a novel or ten. Being an atheist, I know that my time alive is finite. To me, every hour spent asleep is a waste of criminal magnitudes.

In other news, I also noticed that my irides look... ragged.

Ragged Eye
I like to imagine little ocular marine life swimming in and out of those nooks and crannies.

I'm going to start paying more attention to the irides of every patient I examine from now on to see if there are anyone else who have a pair like mine. I don't remember seeing any during my month-long Ophthalmology rotation last year though. Do you know that your irides are as distinctive as your fingerprint? And that their peculiar uniqueness is the bread on which the tech of iris recognition scans is buttered on? You see it sometimes in sci-fi or spy flicks, though it is admittedly a tad overshadowed by retinal scanning. I'm craving for buttered toasts now, for some reason. With real butter. No gentleman should abide by margarine.

I think it's safe to say that I'll be writing in this web journal every other day for the next month or so - and I have a lot to say. I'm in a bit of a breather spot in an otherwise inhumanly frenetic year now, and I certainly will be needing it to recuperate. Every fibre in my body feels as ragged as my irides, let me tell you.

k0k s3n w4i