Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So, an Atheist Walks Into a Christian House Party...

"I hear they’ll hang you upside down
Stretched across two boards
For hearing distant voices
And crossing to the Lord"

Far Far Away (2001) by Five Iron Frenzy

It's my favourite song from the only Christian band I ever liked.
That's because their lyrics aren't unimaginative, repetitive declarations of undying man-love for Jesus.

Being one of the few openly irreligious and unrepentant members of my immediate and narrow social circle, I frequently received (note past tense) invitations to participate in the bizarre rituals of my friends' faith in their houses of worship and to attend the holy soirees of their god-blessed communities. I have always maintained a respectful comportment and a constant smile on these occasions. The human smile is universally hardwired into the brainworks of our species. It transcends cultures and epochs. If you smile at a two months old baby, the little mannikin would smile back at you without ever needing to be told how to do it or what it means. By smiling, I try to non-verbally convey that I, the atheist who walk amongst you, have come in peace.

Hold tongue and hold smile; those are the same watchwords I observed when I was invited to a pastor's house party this one time by my Christian friends and colleagues. I surmised that the two essential ingredients for a good party - alcohol and good music - would not be on the table, and I was right. There were great food though. My memory's a little fuzzy but I think I originally joined them for a dinner outing but hey, surprise free dinner is even better! It's meeting a whole church-load of new people I had objections to. And don't get me wrong, I find it uncomfortable to meet more than one stranger at a time, regardless of circumstances. It doesn't matter whether it's a cell group or an atheist conference.

Prayer would most certainly be on the itinerary and sure enough, there were some. When they clasp their hands together and close their eyes in prayer or grace, I close my eyes too. I don't pray, of course. It's just that I find it really disconcerting to watch everyone around me whisper to some invisible sky person I can't see. All at the same time.

After I was fed and watered, I was expected to participate in some ice-breaking games. Without going into the details, it involved socking people with a rolled-up newspaper club and learning the names of every other guest in the premises. Fat lot of good it did because I can't recall a single name or face a couple of hours afterward. There was a general atmosphere of warm acceptance which some people find magnetic. I believe that one of the biggest draws of religion is a sense of belonging and community, and I've heard of atheists who attend church functions for the social aspects exclusively. I, on the other hand, am usually wooed by the vittles.

As the god-sanctioned festivities winded down, the pastor handed xeroxed copies of a survey to everybody. I like participating in surveys. I read one question and it asked: "What is your goal in life?"

"To labour for the eventual demise of superstitions and organised religion everywhere."

I sneaked peeks at the answers of several persons nearby to see if I could use any of theirs. The few I saw were,

"My dream in life is to be a missionary and spread the love and joy of the gospels of Jes..."

"All I want to accomplish is to fulfill the special purpose He lovingly created me for..."

"I want to serve and love Jesus Christ more and more with every passing second of my lif..."

Wow. Their minds work so differently from mine on such a fundamentally alien level that I felt like I had dropped through a wormhole into another dimension. There's no way I can un-see that brief glimpse into the eldritch hive herd mind of Jesus' flock. It's like that one time when two of my heathen friends were invited to a Planetshakers concert and returned to tell me how spooked they were when the sea of people they were swimming in all threw up their hands and wept and moaned ecstatically. Some even fell to the floor in writhing, orgasmic convulsions. The pair are now convinced that some unspeakable evil was at work that night. I guess that's how attempts at evangelising affect people: the targets either get infected/assimilated or develop a strong, lifelong, aversive immunity against Christianity. Proselytisers, take note! Don't show people the really weird stuff too quickly! Keep up the facade of normalcy and sanity for as long as you can!

Anyway to return to my story, I wrote a pretty generic, Jesus-less answer which I'm certain would stick out like a herpetic rash when the pastor reads it later. Onward to the next question!

"When you finally meet God in heaven, what's the one question you would ask him?"

Oh-kay. I don't think this survey was designed with people like me in mind at all.

I wrote, "Holy crap, what am I doing in heaven?" and immediately crossed that out.

"You're real?! Whoa..." Nope. That's not going to work either. I wish I wasn't using a pen.

I eventually settled on "How are you, sir?" Seems like a polite thing to ask the first time you meet someone, right? At that, I handed in my piece (there were only two questions) and left with my friends.

I have not been invited back since.

P.S. On hindsight, I should have written, "Ho ho ho, wouldn't you like to know how I, an avowed ATHEIST, bypassed your security and got into heaven, Mr God?"

Thinks that wool itches,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rapunzel: A Tangled Tale: A Review

"This is the story of how I died."

Flynn Rider, Tangled (2010)

Yes, they pulled an American Beauty.

It's a testament to the timeless charm of Walt Disney's name and the kingdom he wrought that my screening of Rapunzel played to an almost full house on a Thursday at 3:50 pm in the afternoon to a mostly adult and teen crowd. Yes, I shall refer to Disney Studio's latest entry - the 50th animated feature in their Walt Disney's Animated Classics series, by the way - by its rightful title for the rest of this write-up. All things in the cosmos by their proper names, I say. Besides, no one I know actually calls it ugh, Tangled. That made me vomit in my mouth a little. Did you know that the effort at re-branding was to downplay the fairytale, Disney-princessy aspects of the film in hopes of baiting more boys into seeing it? And the uh, like totally radical promotion angle was purposed to draw in the Hannah Montana slash High School Musical teens and preteens? Epic marketing fail.


Fortunately, none of the marketing ploys accurately represented
Rapunzel. It's not a teen romance comedy. It's not filled with pop-songs - it's actually a traditional musical in the vein of the Disney greats. And Rapunzel's hair is not prehensile.

Rapunzel is suppose to be Disney's last fairytale-based film in the foreseeable future, so this might be the last one we'll ever get from the Magic Kingdom. While I don't think it's comparable to the truly beloved classics like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, I consider it a memorable entry into the canon. I certainly liked it better than last year's The Princess and the Frog. Before you ask, I'll say yes. Yes, they had taken liberties with the original Grimm Brothers' story the same way they did with most of their other adaptations (did you know in the original Hans Christian Andersen's tale, the Little Mermaid lost her prince to a rival princess, attempted to murder him and ultimately turned into foam at sea?). There's even a word for what they do. It's "Disneyfication". Considering that the original Rapunzel lore had the eponymous magnificently-tressed heroine knocked up and the prince had his eyes put out gorily by thorns, it's an understandable undertaking.

So, in Disney's Rapunzel, Rapunzel's mother was a queen instead of some serf's wife and instead of a pregnant woman's weird craving for some witch-grown vegetables kicking off the whole shebang, the pregnant queen was ill and needed a magical flower which was magically created by a sunbeam hitting the ground - and whoever sings a song to it can activate it's miraculous healing powerz. Okay, you get the idea. It's pretty much a whole different story with a scattering of little nods to the original in it. The central plot deals with Rapunzel, who had been "grounded like... FOREVER" wanting to go out and see the outside world. Mother Gothel, Rapunzel's captor and ersatz mother, did not let her. There are shades of an underlying theme about overprotective parenthood which I wished had been explored further; we would have ended up with a far more complex and interesting villain. What if the witch really started loving Rapunzel as if she's her real daughter? A missed opportunity if there ever was one.

In the opening narration, Flynn Rider (the roguishly handsome thief who replaced the prince character) told us that this is a story of how he died. Since this is a Disney flick, I safely assumed that that will not be a permanent deal. In fact, after picking up a few more plot points in the first um, ten minutes of the film, you can pretty much triangulate how everything will resolve into a beautiful happily ever after. You can assume that Rapunzel will escape the tower forever, that she will be reunited with her real and royal parents, and that she will marry Flynn. That's the hazard of watching a Disney film, I suppose - but an assumption, as Samuel L. Jackson will tell you, makes an ass out of you and umption. The plot turned out to be just ever so slightly more interesting than what I assumed. There's a very, very brief point in the film when I was (gasp) actually unsure of how it will end, and that's more than what I can say for every single Disney film I have watched before now.


Rapunzel is in my opinion, the most attractive of all the Disney princesses thus far. Maybe it's her sunny, perky, almost goofy disposition, her huge green eyes and her adorable slight overbite. Maybe it's her barely-there smattering of freckles on her nose, visible in a precious few closeups. Maybe, it's 'cause she's voiced by Mandy Moore, whom I am inexplicably fond of. I don't know. But what I do know is that her divine mile-long golden locks were gorgeously animated. And she's funny. Did I mention she's funny? The first few minutes after she escaped from her tower were some of the funniest scenes I'd ever seen in a film in many years.

And Flynn Rider is designed to get the oestrogen pumping. No, I'm serious. He's literally designed with that purpose in mind. I read that the artists had all the staff members list all the celebrities which they thought were hunkiest and pretty much made a composite out of their answers. He gets the best, most hilarious lines. He has a lady-killing smoulder. He buckles swashes. He has a cute goatee. I haven't talked to my girlfriend yet - she just saw the film - but I suspect that she's already so in love with Flynn that she's practically pregnant with his twins.

The best thing about Rapunzel is the animation, hands down. Of all the animated film which debuted this year, I think it looked best. When they talked about non-gimmicky 3D which adds depth to the viewing experience, I'm sure Rapunzel is close to what they had in mind. The scenery design was breathtaking and I swear I've never seen colours so alive, so lush. The scene with a million Kongming lanterns taking flight into the night sky over the city by the lake which they spent the better part of the film building up to - that was magical. There's no better word for it. While I was watching it, I found myself holding my breath while my skin raised goose pimples from the sheer chill of being blown away.

Would I call Rapunzel Disney's return to form after more than a decade's drought of wonders? Yes, I dare think I do.

P.S. Oh dear, I can't believe I didn't talk about the songs! They were pretty forgettable. The villain song, Mother Knows Best was pretty good though, and the reprise was electrifying. And so was Rapunzel's little magic song.

P.P.S. Ron Perlman!

P.P.P.S. My thoughts on spoilery stuff here. Highlight within brackets to illuminate: [I just knew that Rapunzel's hair would be cut at some point, but the circumstances surrounding that event caught me completely by surprise and the implication of Flynn's act was genuinely touching. Good show. Immediately after that, I had a split second doubt that Flynn would survive - I couldn't see how. Cue deus ex machina magical healing tears. This bit apparently came from the original fairytale though. And I really dug how Rapunzel looked with short, brown hair.]

Climbed the golden stair,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pixar Says "It Gets Better"

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."

Leviticus 18:22

"And Lot! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Will ye commit abomination such as no creature ever did before you? Lo! ye come with lust unto men instead of women. Nay, but ye are wanton folk."

7:80-81, Al-Qur'an

The Qur'an seems to have nothing against lesbians though. Progress!

Continuing in their grand tradition of reaching out and touching hearts, Pixar had recently jumped aboard the "It Gets Better" campaign which aims to reach out to homosexual children and teenagers who face social ostracization and cruel bullying for being who they are.

You might need a tissue.

Unlike other bullied children, they usually cannot even count on the support of their own family members who would torment them just as badly as (if not worse) than their schoolyard harassers. It's understandable why a disproportionately large percentage of homosexual kids contemplated, attempted and committed suicide. This is tragic. This is why I work so hard to discredit religion and the sanctimonious bastards who hide behind the skirts of fictional gods to persecute people who are just different. This is why I speak up - to show everyone that not all straight people are evil, selfish, bigots who cannot understand that you can't stop a gay person from loving a member of the same sex anymore than they can stop themselves from falling for a member of the opposite gender.

The only way Pixar can top this is if they make a movie about the struggles of a gay teen. I believe that one day, it will happen. One day, it'll be okay for all of us to be equals.

In Pixar he trusts,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stephen Tobolowsky and His Fantastic Files

"There are two requirements that make it workable. One is that all the stories have to be true. And two, that all the stories have to have happened to the teller, to me."

Stephen Tobolowsky

I am a self-admitted entertainment junkie and in my lifelong quest to elude boredom, I have turned into a glutton for amusement and my appetite runs the gamut of media forms. In between sleeping, meals and my obligatory rites of personal hygiene, I am always watching, reading or listening to something. And one of the ever-present hazards of being my girlfriend is that she would be pestered almost daily to check out this movie or TV series or that book or song - whichever thing it is that got my passion ripping its shirt apart at the moment. It's no fun being excited about something on your lonesome, let me tell you.

Last year, I discovered the joy of podcasts. They are basically digital media files (usually audio) released on an episodic basis which you can download and listen at your leisure on your computer or MP3 player. This is why I think radio and television with their scheduled programming will be made obsolete soon (haven't watched telly in half a decade now, on my part). We are a generation of instant gratification. The world revolves around us, us, us, got it? Another thing you should know about podcasts is that they are almost always available for free. Anyhow, it didn't take me long to discover The Tobolowsky Files, described in its website as "a series of short stories about life, love, and the entertainment industry as told by legendary character actor, Stephen Tobolowsky." It quickly became one of my favourite things.

So, who is Stephen Tobolowsky? Movie fans will know him mainly as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day and Sammy Jankis ("Remember Sammy Jankis") in Memento. To TV enthusiasts, he's Bob Bishop (the guy with the Midas touch) in Heroes and Sandy Ryerson (paedophilic former director of the Glee club) in Glee. He's that C-list actor you can probably recognise on sight but couldn't place a name on.


The man has a hypnotic voice, a magical way with words and fantastic life stories. He can talk about anything and I would lap it up. I even enjoyed the episodes in which he spoke on matters of faith - like that time he made a bet with some guy in a bar that he could prove that God exists or his interpretation of Joseph's story from his Huge White Family Bible™. This is high praise indeed coming from an angry atheist like me. However, it's his time as a theatre major in the SMU, the difficult start he had in pursuit of his acting career, the behind-the-scenes anecdotes on the set of Memento, Groundhog Day and Mississippi Burning, and his love life with Pulitzer-winning dramatist, Beth Henley and his wife, actress Ann Hearn that I enjoy listening about most. And it's not just me. The podcast received so much attention that it was soon syndicated by several radio stations and scored the man a book deal.

Now, everyone would have interesting stories to tell once they have lived long enough, but it takes a gift to turn them into something which means more than the sum of its parts. Stephen Tobolowsky had made me laugh and cry - often in public on my own, I am unashamed to admit - and most importantly, he is an inspiration to me. To borrow the word he used to describe his mother in a heartbreaking episode he recorded to commemorate her birthday; he is an alchemist.


I can go on, but instead of continuing this as a review, I would like to give a testimonial instead. If there's anything I learnt from Mr Tobolowsky, it's that the best way to convince anyone of anything is through a tale well-told.

Now, I had been trying to get the girlfriend to listen to the Tobolowsky Files for months, but it is nigh impossible to get her to do anything once she has made up her mind not to. But I am no defeatist myself. Our relationship dynamic is one modelled between an immovable object and an unstoppable force - but dating long-distance managed to keep us out of collision course most of the time, thankfully. One afternoon in the recent month of September, while I was on vacation and staying in her apartment in Butterworth, I managed to jam the buds of my MP3 player's headphones into her ears just as she was sinking into her siesta, too enervated to resist. Playing on it was one of my favourite episodes of the Tobolowsky Files. It's titled It's Not My Dog.

When I checked up on her about an hour later, I found her with her face buried in her pillow. "Asleep," I thought and felt kind of thwarted. She still had the headphones on though - was probably too lazy to pull them out. Then I heard a sob. And another. I turned her over and found that her eyes were red and puffy. She was crying! I knew that this particular episode can really stir up some emotions, but wow.

"So, um, how's the podcast?" I asked sheepishly.

"I hate it," she said between sniffles. "I hate Stephen Tobolowsky."

P.S. Here's the first episode. You're welcome.

Bringing the joy of Tobo to everyone,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Goats of Christendom

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

John 3:16

This sounds inspirational - if you are a sociopath.

The Christian Approach to Personal Responsibility

Several years ago when I was still studying in India, I had a conversation over lunch with a colleague of mine - and let me tell you, it's not just the food that didn't go down well with me. Back then, I was very much less inclined to question religious beliefs than I am now - I used to have this specious idea that I should respect whatever poppycock people happen to buy into just to avoid offending them. I have long since outgrown that, thankfully.

Anyway, thanks to my misguided non-confrontational policy at the time, the exchange was relatively one-sided. It was mostly him telling me how Christian morality is superior to mine. In the interest of protecting his identity, let's call him um, the Protestant.

"If you don't believe in God, how do you know if your actions are truly moral?" he said. "Without an objective gold standard of complete goodness as a reference point, isn't your morality relative? When morality is relative, anyone can make up any rule in any time in history and they would not be wrong - so long as it fits the context of the time. Morality would be meaningless."

I don't remember how I answered him at the time, but I know how I should have answered. I should have called him a liar. I should have told him that God is most definitely not an objective source of morality. Take the Ten Commandments, for example. One of them was "Thou shalt not kill." If this is an objective law of morality, it means that under no circumstances are anyone allowed to take another person's life. Within the same Biblical book, just some chapters ahead, God commanded the Levites (Exodus 32:27) to "slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour." 3000 people were murdered. Huge tracts in the Book of Joshua were basically Joshua committing genocides after genocides on God's order. In fact, God is so bloodthirsty that he gave Jephthah victory in battle in exchange for him burning his own daughter as an offering to Him (Judges 11:30-31, 11:34-40). These are just a few examples out of myriads.

And if "Thou shalt not kill" is truly an objective moral law - emphasis on objective - then God is immoral if he breaks it, regardless of context. And boy, just between the Flood which wiped out most of humanity, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Plagues of Egypt, he certainly act as if killing is a-okay if you're a cosmic super-being. Objective morality, my comfy ass. The God of the Bible is the greatest moral relativist I know.

By the way, we are all moral relativists. It's just that some people refuse to admit it.

The Protestant then said, in another part of the same discussion: "Humans are fallible. Humans can be tempted. There's no possible way we can avoid committing every sin God prohibits. Only Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, is perfect and blameless. He suffered and died for our sins so we don't have to. So, the only way we can be free of sin and go to Heaven is to accept Jesus's sacrifice."

Never mind that Jesus sacrificed nothing. Never mind that he didn't really die but supposedly strolled out of his tomb three days later as right as rain. Let us focus on the idea of allowing an innocent man to bear the responsibility of our wrongdoings. Let him be punished in our stead. Let him be scourged. Let him be crucified and abandoned to die a slow and painful death. My question is: how can anyone decent, righteous and moral partake in such a miscarriage and abomination of justice for their own personal gain? There's a word for what that is, luv. That word is scapegoating.

This is essentially what Christianity has to offer. They offer you the freedom from the culpability of all your sins so long as you choose to benefit from the torture and execution of this innocent fall guy from Nazareth. If you don't, you must suffer eternal agony at the hands of an angry God. If Hitler - a lifelong Catholic - sincerely confessed his sins and accepted Jesus' offer of absolution before he died, we are forced to believe he's in Heaven now along with every born-again serial killer who ever lived. Anne Frank however, is currently burning in Hell.

My purpose in writing this longish discourse is to combat the vigorous efforts evangelistic Christians expend in spreading what I consider to be a pernicious ideology in search of morality in a cruel and capricious deity, and salvation through bloody human sacrifice. Now, I do not have hopes of penetrating through any Christian blind faith-reinforced skulls with my reasoning but I certainly aim to inoculate the innocents, the undecided and the unschooled against the gooey, superficially feel-good woo the proselytisers peddle. Don't let Christians wave their holier-than-thou attitudes in your face. They are usually no better than the rest of us in practice, and their beliefs are monstrous things.


There's a shorter story I want to tell you which happened a lot closer to present times. I am not going to tell you what to think about it, so take of it what you will. I was in the vehicle of another colleague the other day - let's call this one the Catholic. As he was coming out of his parking spot, he recognised this other car parked nearby and gave an impromptu confession to me.

"I accidentally backed into that car once and dented it."

"So what did you do?" I asked.

"I ran away, of course," he said, laughing. "What did you think I did?"

I recounted an incident to him: "I accidentally reversed into a car in this same place a couple of years ago. I left my phone number with the security guard on duty and asked him to pass it to the car's owner when he or she returns."

No one saw my little oopsie - not even God because I don't believe he exists. I could have gotten away scot-free had I chosen to drive away like the sort of asshole most people are born to be but somehow, I just couldn't do it. I know my conscience very well and I'm sure it will give me hell long after I have left the incident behind. After all, it's not like I have a personal God to forgive me or to take my guilt away when I'm praying privately in my bedroom, right?

The Catholic laughed again. "In life, we shouldn't be too honest, Kok," he told me sagely.

"Oh," I said and changed the subject.

P.S. From today onwards, my pictures' captions will be written in the hovertext. Just hover your cursor over the image and it will pop out automatically.

Thinks that human sacrifice
is primitive and evil,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beve's British Invasion

"C'est mon frère, mon plus bel ami de coeur
C'est mon air, mon oxygène, mes heures
C'est mon frère, mon plus bel ami de coeur
C'est mon air, mon âme soeur"

Ame Soeur (2010) by Jena Lee

My French is bad non-existent but I think this chanson is about friendship. is it not?

This post was sitting in my drafts folder since early August because I have no idea how to write it - so I'll just stop trying. Beve flew down from London sometime at the end of July, stayed over for one night and ate more meals than anyone can safely consume over the course of 24 hours. I took her up St Paul's hill in the evening and down Jonker Walk at night because she never really did the whole tourist routine when she was here the year before. Then, we went and caught a midnight screening of Inception because she hadn't seen it and I hadn't seen it a second time. That's was what happened, more or less.

Beve is short for Beverly and it's supposedly pronounced like "bevy" but it's been "beef" in my mind from the very start so that's not something I can ever change now. It's not my fault. It should have been spelt Bevë to indicate that the last vowel isn't silent.

Beve and Drink
This is she, drinking something which sounded nice but tasted meh.

We met almost 4 years ago over the internet when I was working out my traumatic breakup with the Ex-Grrrfriend™ and talking to a random 18 year old teenage girl seemed like the most natural thing to do at the time. Maybe I was just picking up from the time I disappeared into a 3-year-long socially sequestered, dangerously obsessive relationship of mutually assured destruction when I was 18, I don't know. Teenage girls are neither known for the sophistication of their thoughts nor the coherence of their speech, but I lucked out with Beve - even though she wasn't particularly coherent. She was my confidante, my psychotherapist, and my nonsense-conversation-haver during the multiple manic episodes I had. Above all, she was a friend. She was a friend not in the we-hang-out-and-do-stuff sense of the word. She was a friend who helped me carry the weight of life in the wake of a heartbreak so I could live again.

I never really thanked her so I guess this is as good a time as any to do that. Thanks, Beve. Thanks for saving me from myself and thanks for being someone I could trust completely. Thanks for all the long distance calls and impromptu webcam piano recitals you performed for me. Thanks for everything. I'm sorry it took me this long to say this. I'm also sorry I told you that your sister is cute.

Oh wow, that was actually pretty mushy but y'know, in a platonic kind of way.

A Famosa
The roofless ruin of St Paul's Church.

We spoke last week over MSN and she said how we are really acquaintances now rather than proper friends. We haven't been talking in any meaningful sense of the word for a long while now after I got together with Phoebs and she with Nikhil. It's only natural for us to drift apart when so much of our worlds have been taken over by the passage of time, adulthood and other-halves. I regard the gains and losses of friends as necessary evils of life and I'm not someone who would work to maintain them like some sort of friendship janitor - never bothered since my high school years, personally. I am a bit emotionally aloof that way.

Guitar Fan
Dreadlocked man and the street musician.

That's also one of the reasons why I appreciate Beve so much; I feel I can just say almost anything to her. I once told her it wouldn't matter terribly to me if we stop being friends someday - probably because I'm just a terrible person. For some reason, the thought of those words sickens me a little now.

I understand that sometimes I can be a difficult person to reach, as anyone who has ever been close to me can attest. I always appreciate it when anyone tries, and I'm certainly glad on the rare occasions they succeed.

Mini Panther
Beve reminds me of cats. No idea why.

I like to think that the fact we can still be so frank about the state of our friendship means that we are still pals, sort of. Isn't that what friends are for? The bad weather, the meteor showers and the storms at sea? Okay, I know I suck at expressing myself but I have a story. Once a girl (we'll call her Girl #1) complained to me about her best friend (Girl #2) who practically ditched her after she got a boyfriend, but after that fell apart, Girl #2 decided to crawl back to Girl #1 to look for post-breakup sisterly support. Girl #1 asked me if she should take her back. She asked indignantly, "What sort of friend would forget about you once she got together with some guy?".

I said, "What sort of friend are you then, if you aren't there when she needs you most?"

Nyonya House
An antique Baba-Nyonya house slash dessert shop.

I'm sure Beve and I don't need each other now, and I'm not sure if she would ever need me - but I would be a real shitty friend indeed if I can't promise that I'll always be there for her. Just in case.

So, that's my promise to you, kiddo.

Some British poseur.

P.S. Happy 21st birthday, by the way. And I do know that that's next week, you twit.

Your friend,

Instant Ramen Rant

"Our saucer which art in a colander, draining be Your noodles. Thy noodle come, Thy meatballness be done on earth, as it is meaty in heaven. Give us this day our daily sauce, and forgive us our lack of piracy, as we pirate and smuggle against those who lack piracy with us. And lead us not into vegetarianism, but deliver us from non-red meat sauce. For thine is the colander, the noodle, and the sauce, forever and ever. R'Amen."

A prayer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Have you been touched by his noodly appendage?

Ando Momofuko, founder of Nissin Foods, invented instant noodles in the 1950's after World War II. The man's simple philosophy was: "peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat." Words to live by. I'm old-school and my favourite brand of instant ramen is naturally Nissin - the Tokyo shoyu flavour one in particular - which I would eat for every meal if I can (I can't). Maggi mee tastes like wormy turds in comparison. That's just a figure of speech; I don't actually know how wormy turds taste like.

About a month ago when I was shopping for comestibles in a supermarket, I noticed that they had revamped the packaging of my favourite noodle by bagging it in a semi-opaque outer plastic wrapper, partially obscuring the 5 individual packets inside. They look sexier, sure, but I couldn't shake off the nagging feeling that they were trying to hide something. The 5-packs I'm used to look like this,

These Are a Few of My Favourite Things
The original transparent outer wrapper. This is how honesty looks like.

Anyhow, I bought the new-packaged one because I had this vague idea that they would be fresher since they were obviously manufactured at a later date. Yes, it's ironic that I'm talking about the freshness of processed food so preserved they would outlast the mummified remains of ancient Egyptian pharaohs.

So, I went home and hours later, I started hankering for some hot, brothy, noodle action and tore a packet open. And I screamed like a girl scout jumped by a flashing hobo. There were only two sachets of condiments instead of the usual three.

The usual three. Uno, dos, tres!

The old packets came with an oily, shoyu seasoning sauce, a powdered soup base and some shredded nori. The new ones each just had a bigger sachet of powdered soup base and the seaweed, and I assume they had found a way to pulverize the shoyu. This is an abomination. I cooked the cake of noodle and my worst fear was confirmed: my favourite instant noodle now tastes like Maggi awful. It lost that certain je ne sais quoi which made it awesome. I slurped the horrible mess in silence and after finishing the bowl, I went and sat down under a cold shower hugging my knees to my chest.

I have no fricking idea what I did to deserve this. I had always been thoroughly loyal (excepting that one time I flirted with Indomie - I was a younger and more foolish boy then). Sure, I went on health kicks once in awhile and swore off instant noodles for weeks at a time but I have always returned. Always. Aren't relationships all about the ups and downs, the fights and the mock break-ups? You have changed, Tokyu shoyu Nissin. I don't even know who you are anymore.

The next day, I gave the new-and-improved packets of noodle to a hostelite friend I know who likes Maggi (he wouldn't know better anyway). Then, I returned to the supermarket to hunt down the original and buy as many as I could. I confirmed that the old, transparently-packaged Nissin noodle still contained the shoyu seasoning sauce by feeling through the plastic. Using a palpation technique I learned in my 5 years in med school called the fluctuation test, I managed to determine that the sachets inside did still in fact contain a fluid (hurray for higher learning!). However, I did get more than a few sidelong glances for pressing on packets of instant noodle as if I was shopping for melons.

Silly random people. I bring my stethoscope when I shop for melons.

I don't know if Nissin will ever revert back to their old condiment formula but I'm going to boycott their products until they do so. Vote with your wallet, I always say. Till then, I'll just have to stretch my two dozen packets to last me for as long as humanly possible. Anyone got any other instant noodle to introduce to me? I'm on the rebound.

A Well-Balanced Meal
MSG laden soup, I love to drink/These are a few of my favourite things.

P.S. And does anyone know if boiling the noodle first and then mixing in the condiments after you poured it into a bowl is the correct way of cooking instant noodle?

Fueled by ramen,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The High Cost of Living

"Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today"

Imagine (1971) by John Lennon

He glanced at the green, luminescent numbers on the digital clock and it told him that he was travelling through deep night; when the world is stillest and the air is frost. It was the elusive witching hour. No one knows precisely when that should be, but everyone can instinctively tell when they are in it. The supposititious wisdom of superstitions say that it's the time when invisible beings both fey and infernal are out in force to do mischief. He knew that - he just didn't believe in it. He could however, still get a kick from pretending he still does. The sensation of the numinous is a heady, intoxicating experience and there's no cure to wanting to believe that there are worlds beyond one's own. But wanting is one thing, he always said. Puns are another.

He had been driving hard close to 4 hours by now and the banal monotony of headlights and shadows was slowly lulling his overclocked brain to beddy-byes; so slowly, in fact, that he didn't even notice that it was happening. He had always been devillishly lucky. He frequently picked up money from the ground, and had never been seriously injured, broken any bones or crashed his car. And he liked boasting about these things too, jinxes being just this other thing he didn't believe in. It's that same cockiness which made him think he could drive for near 6 hours in the dark of night alone and turn out okay. His only passengers were his backpack of necessaries and his personal computer, which he found impossible to part with for the month he was planning to spend in his girlfriend's place in Butterworth. The only entity he worshipped was the world wide web, and the machine was his shrine to it. The internet is many a wonderful thing, and while it's perfectly capable of keeping him awake for many nights in his bedroom, it had no power whatsoever in keeping him from falling asleep at the wheel. And fell asleep he did. At 120 kilometres per hour.

They also said that the witching hour is the time when sleeping people drift closest to death. By sheer dumb luck, this was one night the old wives got it right.

Near Death Experience
The price is too high to pay.

The biggest commonality that religions of the ages share is a belief in life after death. The afterlife came mainly in two flavours: the diremption of Heaven and Hell, which the Abrahamics such as Christians and Muslims favour, and the metempsychotic cycles of karmic Reincarnation, which is preferred by Eastern faiths such as Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Both types of afterlife are coupled with our actions and intentions in life. Do good and you'll earn eternal bliss in heaven or be reborn into a better next life. Do bad and you'll be punished hellishly without end or come back as something silly like a cockroach or a sea sponge. More fundamentally, both ideas suggest the persistence of one's self - mind, memory and personality - after the demise of the body.

The most important thing to know about afterlives, of course, is the fact that there's no actual objective proof of the existence of any. None. Nada. Zilch.

Some religions went one step further and decided that anyone who isn't part of their exclusive club should likewise be punished, usually for eternity, regardless of how righteous or moral they have been in life. A lot of godly people asked me: what if I'm wrong? What if I'm wrong about God and after I die, I find myself paying for my oh-so-wicked disbelief in Hell? That's the wager which Blaise Pascal made. Never mind that it's a fallacy of false dichotomy. Never mind that they could easily be worshipping the wrong god and be screwed over anyway - but in the face of neverending existence after death, I ask what is the worth of the infinitesimally short life we now have?

What I see is billions of people in the world today living in service to a God or gods who may not exist and investing in an afterlife they cannot know for sure is really there. What if this is it? What if this one life is all we are getting? In the suffocating fog of hell-mongering and fear of the hereafter, we live a pitiful existence indeed. Some worry constantly about what they can or cannot eat or wear. A great number spend a lifetime preaching the alleged words of God, while more than a few would gladly kill to defend their post-mortem fantasies. My point is, it isn't hard to understand why a Muslim man would blow himself and a thousand infidels up along with him when the merest reward promised to him on his arrival in heaven is an abode with eighty-thousand slaves and an all-you-can-fuck buffet of 72 busty, virginal houris. The afterlife devalues life. The only life we know for sure we have.

Have you ever lost someone, a family member or a friend, and people kept telling you that the person you lost is in "a better place"? I always wanted to ask them how the fucking fuck they know that. It always sounded like some empty platitude parroted by well-wishers to soften the blow. But do you know what most people really think? When an old friend of mine took his own life in desperation, when my great grandmother passed away, I know for a fact that each and everyone of my Christian and Muslim friends casually believe that these people I cared about are currently being tortured sadistically in Hell without respite by their All-Loving, All-Forgiving, All-Merciful God. Religion, I learned a long time ago, make monsters out of us all.

The idea of an immortal soul was borne out of the elemental fear of death. I remember that when I was a kid, death was so terrifying a notion that whenever I stared into its abyss, I felt like screaming my head off. There was one time when my little sister woke up suddenly in the middle of the night, weeping piteously and saying over and over again that she doesn't want to die. My parents told her not to worry because death is simply a milestone, that there's a whole new world waiting for her on the Other Side. It's not hard to see that that was how it all began in the first place. To comfort her, they would have told her any number of absurdities.

I am an atheist and all I have to look forward to after I die is nothing. I know, as far as I am able to ascertain, that this is the only life I have. I know that at the end of my own line, the light of my consciousness will be snuffed out for ever. I don't believe that the people I love are destined to be in any place better than Here and Now. When they go, I accept that they will be gone forever. I accept that I will never see them again - not in another life, not in another reality. This is difficult to admit to oneself, but loss is suppose to be painful. This is how I face death, not by denying or cheapening it; not by turning it into a passage to a different state of existence; not by swallowing or making up some childish fairy-story to make myself feel better. It should hurt because it's real and permanent. It should hurt because it's the end.

For all accusations of atheists being cowards who are simply afraid of judgment after dying, it's ironic that we are really the only ones who have the courage to face death and bear the high cost it demands. Here, allow me to reverse the accusation. It's religious people who are really the true cowards; so afraid of death's price that they would believe in anything.


It was one of the darkest and narrowest stretches of road on the North South Highway. Snaking through the chalky mountains between Ipoh and Butterworth, it's one of the windiest too. With every passing second, the car banked ever so much closer to the steel barrier on the right. The driver, no longer driving, was slowly spiralling into a fatal sleep. At the speed he was going, there was no way the inevitable collision could end well.

"KRNG!" A loud cracking noise pierced his ears like a gunshot and his wandering mind rushed back into his head at the speed of thought. In reflex, he jerked the steering wheel to the left and away from the barrier. He felt adrenaline flooding his blood and began shaking violently from the terror of his close brush with his doom, his drowsiness having dissipated without a trace. You can't go through something like that without reacting strongly to it. His ride didn't seem to be too damaged, but it was hard to tell from the inside.

Before long, he reached a truck stop where he pulled over and alighted to inspect the part which he thought made contact. There was nothing there - not a dent, not even the slightest scratch. Puzzled, he examined the rest of the vehicle. Nothing. There was absolutely no evidence that the car ever touched the barrier. He checked the tires, wondering if one of them had burst. Not the case there either. He circled the Suzuki Vitara several more times, feeling more and more bewildered and frustrated with the passing minute. Something must have made that noise which startled him from his incredibly mistimed nap, but what? Was it an artifact of a dream, a passing benevolent spirit or god forbid, divine intervention? Then, shining a beam into the backseat, he spotted his answer - and laughed long and hard. The reason why jokes are funny is because their punchlines tend to be something wholly unexpected, and laughter is simply how people react to it when their brains make the new connection. Or maybe, he's just laughing from the sheer overwhelming joy of being alive. It wasn't clear.

He saw that the hinged front of his CPU was swinging ajar. When the car pitched right, the weight of the backpack resting on it must have gotten great enough to pop it open - cue popping noise, cue near miraculous escape from the fate of a burning wreck and being the morning headline. He marvelled at the wildly improbable circumstances which saved his life. What are the chances of this happening, he wondered as he climbed back onto his seat, closed the door and reignited the engine.

He gave no thanks to any god because he believed in none.

P.S. Yes, the title of this article is a Neil Gaiman reference.

Faced death and will face her again,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Sucker Punch Official Trailer is Out!

I interrupt our regular programme to bring you this,

Babes! Giant samurai mechas! Zeppelins! Zombies! Dragons! My mind, it's blown.

I wrote about this flick and its amazing teaser trailer in July, and this full-length trailer is just more of the same type of awesome. This time around, they got Scott Glenn doing a grizzly voice-over of the sypnosis on the film's plot - as if it needed one *pffft*. We do however, get to look at more never-before-seen footage of femme mayhem and oestrogenic action (and more of Emily Browning's hair billowing sexily in the wind). I know it's a big dumb movie but by Jove, I don't think I have ever wanted to see one so badly in my entire life.

Okay, I got to split now - I got a movie to catch in one hour. Expect a real post some time tomorrow the day after tomorrow, people.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Coco avant Chanel: A Review

"There have been several Duchesses of Westminster. There is only one Chanel."

Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel

The reason why she did not marry the 2nd Duke of Westminster.

Coco avant Chanel Poster
Très chic.

Before I review this biopic, there are several things which I need to disclaim. Firstly, I know next to nothing about the subject of this motion picture, Mademoiselle Chanel, who was - I was informed - one of the most iconic figures in fashion history and was the only couturier to be included in the Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century. Secondly, I admit my ignorance of the mores of fashion. My wardrobe philosophy is simplicity and utility. My taste in women's fashion runs very much in the same vein: minimalistic but elegant.

Clearly, I had a lot to learn and one of the things the film taught me is that Mademoiselle Chanel pretty much hold the same ideas about women's clothing as I do. It might also mean that my taste dates back to the early 1900's, making me about one hundred years out of vogue - but there's no denying Chanel's influence on modern feminine couture.

The film is titled Coco Before (avant) Chanel. It's a story of the woman before the legend. Before the advent of Chanel, women of station dressed in gaudy, ostentatious fripperies. There's a beautifully shot beach scene where Coco and her beau, Boy Capel, were strolling through a sea of people enjoying a day in the sun, and she dismissively pointed out how tastelessly the ladies of her time are adorned to him. She critiqued the profusion in jewelry. She scoffed at a woman trying to run in a corset. She laughed at the ridiculously large and froufrou hats they wear. "They look like pastries," she remarked in amusement.

Coco Beach
One of my favourite shots of the film.

Coco stood in stark contrast to her contemporaries. She looked confident without being vain or showy. She caught eyes without screaming for it. It's a testament to her monolithic and uncompromising sense of individuality that when the world and her collided, the world started dressing like her.

But that sense of individuality was not limited to just her clothes. She had been a mistress to many men, but never a wife. She disapproved of how the well-heeled crème of the French social circles did no work but horsed around decadently nibbling amuse-gueules. She could have lived a lavish lifestyle as the domesticated woman of the rich textile heir Étienne Balsan, designing hats as a diversion for her socialite friends - but no, she wanted to be productive and independent. I share her disdain for the institute of marriage. If I had been born a woman, I too would have wanted no part in the evidently unequal contract of matrimony. I would never want to surrender my name for another. I would never be so spineless as to allow each and every last one of my children take my husband's name. "Madame," a waiter addressed her. "Mademoiselle," she corrected him as a matter of factly. She considered her unwed status as something to be proud of, not as a shame.

The real shame, if you ask me, is that generations after the death of Coco Chanel, the majority of modern women would still readily believe the reverse.

Audrey Tautou as Coco Chanel
The underrated stiff upper lip of the French.

"She was the first good-looking couturier and because of her own strong look, everybody wanted to copy her. She was an artist who intellectualised couture for the first time," explains Catherine Leterrier, who designed and costumed the film. I felt that in many ways, it's amazing how she managed to recreate the simplistic exquisiteness which set Coco out and above the overdressed ladies of her era, whose ruffles and finery often threaten to drown her out. It's obvious that Chanel's - and by proxy, Leterrier's - creations were strongly inspired by menswear, and they exude a certain boyish chic which I find very fetching. I may never understand high fashion, but I certainly know what I like.

Coco Tux
Is it wrong that I find women in masculine apparel sexy?

I confess that I only watched this film because Audrey Tautou was playing the legendary fashion designer. I have loved the French actress ever since I saw her as the shy, introverted Parisian waitress in the 2001 whimsical romantic comedy Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain - or simply Amélie to the rest of the world. In Coco avant Chanel, she played an assertive young seamstress attempting to make her way through life on her own terms. The essence of her story spanned the well-trodden road between rags and riches; from an orphanage in Aubazine to being the mistress of an empire which carried her name. The tone of the film is austere, unsentimental and free of the embellishing flounces of fairy-stories; much like her dresses one could say. I have no idea how accurately Audrey Tautou portrayed Mademoiselle Chanel but at the end of it, when she sat herself down regally on a step of a spiral staircase overseeing models outfitted in her distinctive brand of haute couture as they float down past her, I had no doubt that she nailed it.

A real queen, as Coco Chanel demonstrated, needs neither cape nor crown nor king.

Coco After Chanel
Another favourite shot of mine from the film: Coco when she is Chanel.

Discovered a new heroine,
k0k s3n w4i