Sunday, June 28, 2009

Today, I Am Happy

"There are nine million bicycles in Beijing
That's a fact,
It's a thing we can't deny
Like the fact that I will love you till I die."

Nine Million Bicycles (2005) by Katie Melua

It's a day for sappy blues.

I got off on the right side of bed this morning and caught a McD's breakfast about 30 seconds to eleven. I had an Egg McMuffin in lieu of my usual Sausage McMuffin (with Egg™!) because I found out a couple of weeks ago that they have started including a slice of chicken roll in their Egg McMuffins, and I have been dying to try it since.

It certainly was as good as it sounds. The chicken roll complements the egg really well, just so long as you don't dwell too long on the fact that you're eating both the mother and its young at the same time. Oh, and they are also giving out free strawberry-flavoured Chipsmore cookie bars with every McValue meal! I had to ask for mine though, but I got it. Are the McD staff hoarding the cookie bars for themselves?! We might never know the answer to that.

Later in MPH, I found a copy of The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Messrs Oscar Wilde (my absolute favourite homosexual Victorian author!) in a cheap RM 8.50 Penguin Popular Classics format. I did not bring that poor ickle book home, though. It's the tail end of the month, see, and the end o' month blackhole have taken up residence in my wallet once again. But no matter, I shall be back for it. Maybe.

Pimp Wilde
FABulous proof that Oscar Wilde was gay.

I discovered a book clearance sale over at Thai Kuang next - everything and anything that has a cover at RM 9.90! This time, I've also resisted buying any books. It wasn't hard, really, since they mostly carry cheesy romance novels, conspiracy theory hackworks and self-help manuals. I did, however, nearly checked out with a Complete Idiot's Guide to Being the Groom (I thought that it'd make a good gift for any of my guy friends, for when they are getting hitched) and a beautiful telephone directory-sized hardcover Holy Bible, because mine is falling apart from all the heavy-duty use I've subjected it to, and also because an ant colony have taken up residence in the Gospel of Mark (did they use caramel to glue the pages together or what?), but my willpower carried the day.

And speaking of Bibles, I found this Christian bookstore in Pahlawan Megamall today. I went in and scoffed at everything. Good times.

Green Day's new album, 21st Century Breakdown, blared from my headphones as I shuffled in and out of shops through the mall. I like having them on - the headphones, I mean - when I hit the mall on Sundays. They discourage people like sales assistants and roadshow promoters from approaching me. On the off-chance they don't get the hint, I can simply pretend not to notice and ignore the hell out of them. It's fun. Never mind that they've already made eye-contact. I can't see you 'cos I got these headphones on, tra la la la...

Then, I visited the Merdeka Memorial on Fort Road, which is right outside one of the mall's back entrances. Don't ask me why I did it. I just felt like it. And I picked the Merdeka Memorial because it's the only museum in the area which doesn't charge its visitors for entry.

I don't believe I'm saying this but I had a great time there. It's one of those rare times in which I feel fired up with national pride and shit. I also learnt that the white guy in the funny hat who represented the Queen for our 1st Independence Day ceremony was the Duke of Gloucester, and that our constitution states that being a Malay and being a Muslim are mutually exclusive. Who would have thunk?

Soon, I was back in the mall because the air-conditioning in the memorial wasn't working too well. I wanted to read in Starbucks but considering the recession - and my wallet - I decided manfully against it, even if I could probably mooch a discount from my old schoolmate's dad who's like the manager of all the Starbucks in Malacca. I'm just not that cheap (and also, he wasn't there at the time). So, I found myself a spot beside the fountain right outside the café, set my MP3 player on shuffle and whipped out a book from my satchel which Phoebe lent me before she went back to India. It was Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and like all of his books, it's snail-paced, pretentious and rambling. His narrator protagonists are always self-inserts, and he'll spend half the pages of every novel introducing a bunch of horny female characters and describing their quirky backstories and physical attributes in great, perverse detail. And the protagonist will sleep with all of them. The end.

That's Admiral Zheng He there in the bas-relief. He's probably the manliest eunuch in the history of mankind.

, his books are definitely more than that but I'm too lazy to write about them now. They are, however, excellent to read on days like today. By a fountain full of large, bright coloured kois. In a patch of sun that just warm enough for the cold of a mall's interior, filtered through a domed skylight. There are few days in my life in which I feel unequivocally happy and contented, but today is one of them. The thought hit me like a sudden kiss from a girl I've never met before. I realised that the moment I noticed that I liked each and every song my MP3 player played today. Every track sounded upbeat and sunny, even the sad emo ones.

Fish Food
"Mum mum...."

Years from now, I want to look back to today and remember how warm and happy I felt by the fountain with a book on my lap. It's just another Sunday, I know, but it's one of those rare days which you would treasure for no greater significance than your belief that its what life has in store for you for the remainder of your ever after.

Sure, there's going to be a lot of days when it's dim or dark, but imagine - imagine your life as a hallway. You only need a bright, sunny day here and there to light up the entire stretch. I'm betting that that's how I'll see it when I'm at the end, staring back into all that I've left behind. Alright, I'm not betting. I'm really just hoping.

Corny, yes, but fortunately, it's a day for that too :)

Happy, happy, happy,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tranformers 2: Revenge of the Sequel

"Fate rarely calls upon us at a moment of our choosing."

Optimus Prime

Don't worry. I'll tell you when the spoilers start. But this is a movie about giant shape-shifting alien robots - so if you care about the plot, you are clearly missing the point.

Also known as "The Transformers Go to Egypt"

First off, I will say that I'm not a serious Transformers fanboy but my partner-in-geekery, Shaki, is one. Days before the movie's slated release date, he had started recruiting fellow movie-goers to go with him to the Big Open. When he found out that there is going to be a sneak preview here in Malacca on Tuesday (also known as yesterday), a day before the premiere, he sprayed his geek jizz all over everyone, went to the theatre on Sunday and bought our tickets.

And what did he think of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen?

he gushed in caps.

Sure, a lot of purist fanboys hated the first movie (and will probably hate this sequel too) for a myriad of idiotic reasons, but they are a fringe, rabid minority. Shaki is a positive sort of fanboy - a manchild who grew up worshipping Optimus Prime and wanted nothing more than to see his Hero slagging Decepticons in frenetic, loud Michael-Bay-o-vision. He was okay with Optimus being a different (albeit bigger) kind of truck. He didn't give a shit that Megatron didn't transform into a tiny pistol.

While I'm not as big a fan of the franchise as Shaki, I did grew up with the cartoon, so I did hold some amount of expectation close to my chest; which was why I didn't really like the first movie. I thought that there was too little bot-on-bot combat (while every critic in the business screamed "TOO MUCH"). And since I'm a fan of Starscream and Megatron - in that order of preference - I disliked how Megatron's over-synthesized Hugo Weaving growl wasn't more distinctive, and how little screentime Starscream received.

The scene that made the 1st movie for me was when an
Autobot shouted "It's Starscream!" in fear when Starscream entered the battle. It sent chills down my spine. I lamented that they did not showcase his treacherous nature more.

Starscream screaming robot spittles on our star, Shia LaBeouf.

Before I go into this review proper, let me just declare first that Bay nixed most of my complaints of the first movie in Revenge of the Fallen, and that this is one of my favourite movie of the year, almost on the same level as Watchmen and Star Trek. According to Rotten Tomatoes, critics (including my favourite reviewer, Roger Ebert) hated it. It has a Rotten score and is looking to fall some more. What I'm trying to say here is: They are all retarded.

Spoilers starts now, but trust me, they won't ruin your watching experience. Still, go watch the movie before reading this - just in case I'm wrong. Don't say I didn't warn you.

7 Things I Love About This Movie.

  1. The thing I love most about this film is that they made Optimus Prime a total Bad Ass. The hair on the back of neck stood up in the forest fight scene when he faces off 3 Decepticons - including Megatron AND Starscream - with an orange, glowing machete attached to either arms, growling BAD ASS lines like "I'll take all you on!" and "You are WEAK! A waste of metal!" in the melee. I can't recall the lines verbatim but you get the idea. That scene totally redeemed Optimus in my eyes after his humiliating defeat at the hands of Megatron in the first movie.

    Bad Ass.

    Badass Optimus
    Once more: BAD ASS!!!

    I very rarely consider good guys (especially noble, heroic, idealistic ones) to be cool, but Optimus is that rare exception. What made it even better was that Optimus did it to protect a weak, defenseless human kid! God, can you say HERO?! It's the ultimate wish-fulfilment for the fanboy child in all of us, to have Optimus putting his life down to save us. That's what made the conclusion of that scene so powerful - that's what made it so heart-wrenching when he was stabbed in the back and through his chest by Megatron. Shaki covered his mouth in horror at that scene. For a moment there I thought he was going to cry.

  2. There is probably 10 times as much heavy metal fight scenes in Revenge of the Fallen compared to the previous film. I liked how it opened in media res, in the middle of a mission where the Autobots engaged the Decepticons in Shang Hai. Sideswipe (a roller-blading silver Chevrolet Corvette Stingray) slashing Sideways (a confusingly similar silver Audi R8) into two halves, and Optimus Prime tackling the many-times bigger, massive UNICYCLE Demolisher (as seen in the trailer), were some notable Scenes of Utter Cool. I won't be surprised to learn that they have brought in a kung fu choreographer to improve the robo-fights.

    Took a level in Bad Ass.

    Even Bumblebee received his crowning moment of Awesome Bad Ass in a later desert town duke-out. I didn't think that it was possible to feel pain for giant robots.

  3. There's a lot more Starscream and Megatron interaction in T2:ROTF and for the first time, we get to see Starscream's character-defining Decepticon-leader-wannabe treacherous side on the big screen. His voice still left much more to be desired, but that's just a minor nitpick on my part. And there's a scene in which Megatron punches Starscream in the face!

    Starscream vs Megatron
    KAPOW! Megatron... WINS!

    It's a cheap thrill, yes, but Michael Bay really knows how to push my buttons. Also, I prefer Starscream's robot mode in the live-adaptation movies to the original animated version.

    Promo material from the first movie. Can't find a more recent full-body shot of him, unfortch.

  4. Soundwave. With an earth-orbiting satellite alternate mode! Voiced by Frank Welker, the original voice actor of the character! This is made of so much win.

    Soundwave in satellite-mode. Sorry, I can only find this image of the toy-version of this movie's incarnation of the character.

    Bay and the writers have wanted to include him in the first movie, first as the helicopter Decepticon (which eventually became Blackout, and then as the psycho spying boombox (which became Frenzy). They decided that if they could not do him right, they wouldn't put him in the movie at all - and boy am I glad that they finally did. In the original animated series, Soundwave's alternate form was a microcassette recorder... so it's pretty hard to take the purist fanboys seriously when they kept complaining about how Bay changed some of the robot's disguise modes. Considering that he is the Decepticon's communications and intelligence officer, making him a satellite (which hacks real satellites, playing a key-role in locating Megatron's corpse and a shard of the Allspark) was a stroke of pure genius. Plus, he looks really good, as you can see in the picture above.

  5. It's a big, dumb popcorn blockbuster and Michael Bay knew it - and embraced it lovingly. At one point, he even had one character heckling Jetfire, an aging, decrepit former Decepticon who defected to the Autobots' side, to provide exposition and backstory. The heckler's exact request? "Beginning! Middle! End! Condense! Details! Plot!". Brilliant. It's called lampshade hanging; a writer's trick of dealing with implausible plot developments or a particularly egregious use of a trope - in this case, the use of expositional info-dumping - by calling attention to it. It's the equivalent of a writer going "I know this is dumb, haha" and hoping that you'll laugh along. The humour in T2:ROTF is puerile and overflows like a backed up toilet can, and I'm pretty sure that Megan Fox's script contains nothing but directions saying "act slutty" and "ooze sexiness". Then there's Sam's near-death experience and his visit to Autobot Heaven. Also, everything explodes. This movie glorifies its own dumbness, and revels in it.

  6. The special-fucking-effects, but that's a given. It is, after all, a live-action movie about giant Transforming™ robots but damn, it never gets old seeing them doing it over and over again. Thank you Industrial Light and Magic!

  7. Megan Fox's foxy tits,

    Megan Fox's Tits
    The more danger she's in, the bigger they look.

    ... and ass,

    Megan Fox's Ass
    I'm interested to know what Michael Bay's exact instructions to Ms Fox were when he shot this scene.

6 Things I Hate About This Movie.

  1. Megan Fox's foxy tits and ass, again.

    Alright, I don't hate her lady bits. What I hate is how blatantly some of the sexy scenes were staged and presented. Halfway through the 3rd act, I wanted to scream at the screen, "Alright, alright, I get it! They bounce a lot when she runs. Stop showing it in slo mo, dammit!!!" Anyhow, I'm probably one of the few heterosexual males on this planet that can't pick Megan Fox out of a crowd of similarly hot women. I mean, there's only so many ways a woman can be physically attractive. When women approach a certain degree of sexy, they tend to start looking generic to me. I call that the Generic Babe Threshold. On the other hand, it might be because I usually stop looking at a woman's face when she passes that that threshold...

  2. The forest scene in which Optimus Prime took on Megatron, Starscream and Grindor was TOO AWESOME. I'm only complaining about this because it set the bar for the rest of the movie, and the rest of the movie simply could not surpass or even match it. When I saw it, I thought, "Fuck, that's so crazy kickass! I bet the (inevitable) final showdown will be even MORE KICKASS!" and spent the rest of the movie's runtime anticipating a mind-blowing climax which did not come. Sure, he took on both Megatron and The Fallen, Megatron's evil mentor, but Optimus dispatched them so quickly and effortlessly that I feel cheated somehow. Maybe there's an upper limit for awesome in this universe (and that forest fight scene have totally maxed it).

  3. None of the Decepticons got a cool scene comparable to Optimus'. I think that that's one of the reason why the bad bots did not really stand out in this movie. Megatron got depowered so much by the plot that he couldn't beat down Optimus even once - and this while being assisted by his cronies in the first brawl, and by his master in the final fight! There's an adage that says "Your movie is only as interesting as your villain" or something to that effect. This is why The Dark Knight was so good and Spiderman 3 was so bad. The evil mastermind behind the conflict in Revenge of the Fallen is the titular Fallen. While I dig his Egyptian motif-headdress-thingy, he is fatally bland, boring and generic in everything he does. Villains need to be distinctive.

    The Fallen

    While I'm on the subject, I thought that Megatron's voice in the original animated series was pretty distinctive. Now that they have Frank Welker (who also did Megatron back then, aside from Soundwave) in the voice cast, I don't see why they have to continue using Hugo Weaving's over-digitized voice for Megatron. It's not like we can even recognise Agent Smith under all that alteration.

  4. Almost every character, aside from Sam Witwicky LaBeouf and Mikaela Fox, is a comic relief character. Sam's dad. Sam's mom. Bumblebee, occasionally. Sam's Hispanic roommate (I hate him). Sam's innuendo spouting Astronomy professor. That little Decepticon which Mikaela domesticated. Jetfire doing old people jokes. The G-man played by Turturro in the previous movie. The annoying G-man in this current movie. The Autobot twins, Mudflap and Skids... it's an overdose of lame jokes and funny though irrelevant dialogues. While I laughed a lot watching T2:ROTF, I couldn't help feeling irritated at the same time - especially by this pair of tiresome twits, I mean, twins,

    Ethnic Scrappies
    Buckteethed comic sidekicks. Remind you of anyone?


    They are obvious ethnic stereotypes of street-talking black people, and stereotypes are rarely funny to me because they have been used way too often (hence the term stereotype). I actually whooped in joy when one of them got eaten by Devastator. Unfortunately, the bugger survived. How could a little Transformer the size of a Kancil car survive Devastator's massive, grinding gob I'll never know.

    And that robot scrotum joke made by Turturro's character should never have seen daylight. That retarded leg-humping sight gag came in a close second.

  5. The screenwriters sucked at their job. The things the characters say, when they are not making wisecracks, are painful and forced. Optimus' lines outside his bad ass gameface are full of cheese. And there are way too many deus ex machinas moving the story along. The worst of these is the sudden appearance of a "classified" secret weapon on board of the aircraft carrier which blasted Devastator of the pyramid, apparently killing him. Also, why didn't they use this super secret weapon on The Fallen when he's standing where Devastator stood and was activating a machine which will destroy the sun? Why would the Matrix of Leadership have the power to resurrect Optimus Prime? Why only a "Prime" can kill The Fallen? I can totally see why the majority of the mainstream critics hated it with such unreserved fervour. And this is why, Shaki, The Dark Knight is still better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

    Now, I'm not saying that this movie was ruined by its nonsensical, overly-convoluted plot. I'm merely suggesting that there's no reason why the writing should be so bad. It's already an amazingly good action movie in its own right - so won't a better storyline and script make it even more stupendous? I just hate to see so much wasted potential.

  6. The saying "I love you" first romantic plot tumour between Sam and Mikaela should be excised in its entirety from this movie. If I have my way, the relationship between Sam and Mikaela shouldn't even be mentioned at all. There's zero chemistry between them and the only acting talent Megan Fox has is in her bra. I'm sure that if they fire Fox from the cast, they'll have enough money to pay for better screenwriters.

    Sam and Mikaela
    Not even remotely believeable.

    Why are they even spending so much time developing this two unlikeable characters, instead of focusing the time on giving the rest of the Transformers some semblance of identity and personality traits (so we can at least identify some of them in the flurry of battle), I do not know.

Last Words.

Casual moviegoers will love this film, undoubtedly. Critics will hate it, and legitimately so - but that's only because their inner child have shriveled up and died inside. This is a big, loud, stupid summer flick. It's not a work of art. Its story carries no important themes or messages. It will never be deemed culturally significant or win any awards. It's just something you stare at for 2½ hours going "HOLY SHIT!" and "OH MY GAWDDD!!!" every other minute, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I'm definitely watching it again in the theatre. You'll probably feel the same way too.

Score: 10/10

P.S. I don't know why I even bother giving scores in my reviews. Every time I dedicate a whole post to a movie, it's either because it was a 10 or a zero.

Defender of big, dumb movies,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My First Cousin, Once Removed

"You'll go and I’ll be okay,
I can dream the rest away.
It's just a little touch of fate, it will be okay."

Neapolitan Dreams (2008) by Lisa Mitchell

So, yeah...

I have been holding off writing this for about a week now, hoping that my thoughts would fall into place, into something closer to what I really mean to say - but I know that that would never happen. I have always been imperfect, always saying imperfect things with imperfect diction. That is something I battle on a daily basis; a chronic case of being at a loss for words.

It's been one whole week since my great grandmother's funeral. The wake was on Saturday, in a funeral parlour somewhere along Jonker Street which, as you probably already know, is practically a carnival on weekends. It's funny contrast; we were mourning inside while everyone else was having fun in the immediate exterior, eating a melange of greasy hawker food and buying tacky souvenirs which they'll forget about before the month is out.

I arrived late and no one cared. In fact, my aunt told me that I needn't go if I didn't want to. The wake itself seemed to be little more than an overlong game that no one wanted to play. It consisted of several "rounds" of sitting on straw mats with joss sticks clasped in our hands, listening to the priest chanting Taoist prayers in Cantonese and little periods of recess in between them. In every other "round", we all got up and walked several times around the coffin containing my great grandmother's cold, stiff body. By the second bout, everyone was complaining about the exercise and having small talks throughout the sitting solemnly on straw mats bits (for which silent reflection was traditionally demanded, I bet). That pretty much sums up my family's attitude towards death as a whole. We don't care much for it. And I care least of all.

There were a lot of people I do not recognise at the wake. I was told that these are my relatives. My great grandmother's estranged daughter - my grandmother's long lost sister - was there, along with her progeny. Hers is a whole branch of the family tree which I never knew existed. Then there are those that I do recognise, but have not talked to for so very long that awkwardness have settled all over our blood ties like dust, rust and aging yellow. But that's okay because I don't like talking to relatives anyway.

There is, however, one person I did want to talk to. I went to the wake hoping that she would be there, and she was. The last time I saw her was more than 10 years ago, when she last visited. She was a teenager, clip-clopping around on two 5-inch-high pumps. I don't have the slightest ghost of a memory of how she looked like back then, but what I do have is an impression - an impression that she was the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.

Rewinding further back in time, I remember her as my childhood friend sans ridiculously high pumps. I can't recall when we first met but I have always looked forward to her visits (and I was always sad when her visits ended). You see, I'm a bit of an oddity in my family. I'm the eldest of my generation, and an "in-betweener" in age. I found my cousins too childish and my uncles and aunts too austere and adult. The only person I could identify with was her, who was the youngest of my mother's generation. She's my mother's cousin and she's two years older than I am. I suppose she's an aunt of some sort according to Chinese genealogical conventions, and I'm suppose to address her using some weird familial title I will never learn. In English, she's my first cousin once removed. In my heart, she's the big sister I have always wanted.

I stole a few looks at her at the wake and looked away when she met my eyes. Funnily enough, I caught her doing the same several times through the night. I only managed to get a proper look at her when we were playing Ring a Ring o' Roses around my great grandmother. What struck me hardest was how much older she appears to be. An aunt actually wondered why she looked so much more matured than I am but of course, I could not offer her an answer. I can, however, tell you that I feel a little sad about it.

After the ceremony was over at half past eleven, we somehow ended up sitting at the same table for the first time that night. She was preoccupied by one of my younger cousins, who have taken a strange possessive liking towards her. So, I had to interrupt.

"Hi," I said, but it came out soft and squeaky. That happens when you keep your silence long enough. Your voice gets all shriveled and withers inside your throat. It's been years - real, bona fide 365 days years - since I last tried to initiate a conversation with a relative.

"HI!" I went at it again with a lot more conviction. This time, she turned around, smiling. For the first time that night, I smiled too.

I dislike being presumptuous, but I had this weird feeling that she has been wanting to talk to me too. Damn perasan, right? Well, it's just that she has this way of squeezing herself into the middle of my sentences to say what she thinks about anything, and completely aborting my threads of thought in the process. And I found it exceedingly hard to interrupt her. Yes, it's like talking to a female version of me. I was surprised to find that I was amused rather than annoyed. After sometime, I made a game out of anticipating the exact moment when she would interject. I fancy that I could see an excited, impatient quiver on her upper lip a moment before she does that, or maybe it was that slight brightening of her eyes. She was absolutely bursting with things to say.

I've always thought that I am the first and only one in my very financial-biz-oriented family to step into the medical field but that night, I finally found another. She told me that she is nurse, and has been one for four whole years already. Me? I have yet to graduate. In a few months time, she said, she would be going to Saudi Arabia to work.

'Wow, but I've only just found you again,' I did not say.

We talked for about an hour straight and I confess that it passed like a minute. Then when it was time to leave the funeral parlour, I offered to drive her and her mom to my uncle's place where they were staying - just so I could talk to her a little longer. Maybe you wouldn't understand, but I was so very glad to have finally rediscover a relative with whom I am not merely related to, but could relate to as well. All my life, I always feel a little left out in the whole family thing. Blood ties are these cumbersome things which fate doles out to you like numbers in Bingo. They count for something, true, but you don't get any choice at all in the draw.

I asked her if she has a boyfriend and she said no. She said that no one has approached her.

"I find that unbelieveable," I said. Then, I said it one more time and tottered on the last word, wondering if there's anything more I should say. I decided that there wasn't.

Before she left Malacca on Sunday, she came by to my grandmother's place to say good bye. She came as a knock on my room door, in a long-sleeved black top and a long, skinny pair of black jeans. She obviously likes her black. Good taste.

"They really renovated this room well, huh," she commented. My room used to belong to my recently deceased great grandmother.

Of course, I began apologising profusely for the state of mess the room was in. That is pretty much what I do every time anyone sees my room for the first time. My grandmother who was passing by right that moment could not help herself but agree heartily and loudly with me about what a shithole my room was. Thanks, grandma.

We made small weather talk for about a minute, with her still standing at the door and me, in my chair. I'd ask her to sit down if there's any space on my bed not covered by laundry and books, but there wasn't. And while I was saying something inane about long bus rides, I noticed the little signs of an imminent interruption flickering on her face - so I braced myself for impact.

"Who's that in that picture on your desk?" she asked.

"She's my girlfriend."

"Oh, but she looks so... young," she said, laden with unfortunate implications. I heard that as 'ZOMG, UR PAEDO, LOL!!1!' for some reason.

I laughed awkwardly and immediately declared that Phoebe is really just one year younger than I am. We talked a little bit more after that but that's about all the talking we have time for. There's a bus she had to catch back to her hometown of Penang. In a few short months, we wouldn't even be in the same country anymore. It's funny how things go, really. First, her family stopped visiting for more than a decade. Then, I went to India. When I finally came back and met her again, I learn that she's leaving for the Middle East.

I wonder why do all these things kept happening between my favourite cousin and I, of all people.
It's like I'm constantly being screwed over by the Fates.

This has really been a season for goodbyes, hasn't it? There are simply no sighs long enough to express how I feel right now.

P.S. Call me a pessimist, but I don't think I'll ever see her again.

First cousin once removed,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Woman Who Was My Great Grandmother

"It is the evening of the day
I sit and watch the children play
Smiling faces I can see
But not for me
I sit and watch
As tears go by"

As Tears Go By (1965) by The Rolling Stones

What constitutes a person? Is it the body or the mind? Is it that person's belongings or deeds, his dreams or beliefs? Is it what she thinks of herself, or what others think of her? How long does a person or the idea of a person persists after death? Innumerable men and women, people with life stories and feelings as complex as yours and mine, have passed from the world and from living memory - their names worn by rain from the face of stones, their actions the feeblest echoes from the past. It's like they were never here to begin with. Given enough time, even the greatest person in the history of the world will die.

A wise person once told me to close my eyes and recall the strongest, most cherished memory from my childhood, and to hold it in my mind. He asked me, "Can you see it clearly? As clearly as if you are there right this moment?"

Yes, I said.

"You weren't there at all," he told me, smiling with a smugness that was not at all unpleasant. "Every single atom that was part of you back then has been replaced many times over. What you think is your thoughts at that time, all your experiences and memories - they aren't yours."

On Thursday, I received words that my great grandmother have passed away. It happened at 7:00 in the morning, and she was 94. I am writing this now in my bedroom which only became mine a few short years ago. It used to be hers. My bed now is where hers used to be, in the exact same spot. My desk took the place of her wardrobe - and pictures of my girlfriend standing on this desk mirrors how that big, sepia picture of my great grandfather used to stand on top of that wardrobe. In a corner is a little table with a white top which does not seem fit into design scheme of my bedroom at all, or even the time period for that matter. It is the only clue of the room's previous owner. This bedroom possesses almost two decades' worth of living in, of ingrained familiarity counting from the day she first moved into this house; all but gone under a fresh coat of paint and new furniture.

The room was given to me because she was moved to a home after a stroke because we are all ungrateful fuckups. No, that's not true. She was moved there because more than half the day, this house is empty. Both my grandparents still work. Besides my grandparents, I am the only permanent occupant of this house, but I was studying in India at the time and only returned less than a year ago. Still, the home was near enough that my grandmother could walk there pretty regularly to see her. I don't really know how much my grandmother loved her mother and how her death made her feel; she only talked to me twice since Thursday - once to hand me a white T-shirt to wear to the funeral tomorrow. She looked and sounded weary both times.

My great grandmother's death is the first death in this family since I was born, and this is going to be the first funeral I will ever attend. I am not counting the death of my father's mother because, frankly, I never knew her and only met her twice, nor my great uncle's because he was a dick (also, I never really knew him either). My house is literally crawling with relatives at the moment, and I have not spoken a single word to any of them. I prefer holing up alone right here, in my bedroom. Or her bedroom. Is anything really anyone's? What constitutes a person, really?

Between the period of time my great grandmother had a stroke and Thursday, I only visited her twice and I admit that I did not - and do not - see the point of doing that. She couldn't recognise me at all, mistaking me every time for my mother's brother. That's what happens in senescence, in the forgetful evening of our lives; the newer memories are the first to go. You'll forget you grandchildren before you forget your children. Me? I am her great grandchild, her first. I lived with her my entire life, from the day I was born till the day I left for India. Whatever relationship I had with her, whatever memories we shared... those live on only in me now. It's a strange feeling to have, thinking of it that way.

My great grandmother had a headful of white hair ever since I could remember, though I admit that there isn't a lot I can remember of her now. I remember her laugh, deep and chuckly. I remember how she used to grumble to me about my grandmother's habit of grumbling to herself as she works. I remember all the times she asked me to dial numbers on the telephone for her because she couldn't do it nimbly enough herself, and she had these little cards, each with a single telephone number written in a very large hand on it. I remember that it was my duty to play the video-tapes of Hong Kong drama series we rent for her every night because she did not know how to work the VCR, and every time an old-timey actor or actress she knew appears, she will say their names out loud in delightful recognition. There was an armchair which she will sit in every night to watch the TV, and when I was littler, I would sometimes set up my little folding table in front of her and make her play cards with me. And she would nag me every time I don't finish every grain of rice on my plate. She always say, in Cantonese, "Do you know how hard it is to grow a grain of rice?" I finally came up with a retort to that while I was in India, but I never got the chance to use it.

And no, I'm not sad that my great grandmother have passed away - at least, there's no sadness I am aware of - but writing this, I realise for the first time that I do miss her. The old her. Before she had that stroke and became a husk of the person she used to be. Again, what constitutes a person anyway?

She had told me many, many times that one day when she finally dies, she wants to be buried next to my great grandfather - my great grandfather who I only knew from those old, yellow photographs. She spoke of him very often and very fondly; of their arranged marriage, their vacation in Hong Kong, and their morning walks to the beach - a beach which no longer exists even at the time when she first told me about it. Those are her oldest, most cherished memories. Those would had been the last memories she forgets.

They don't grow just one grain of rice at a time, Ah Tai. Good night, and good bye forever.

Your Eldest Great Grandson,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Phoebe Versus Puppy, Puppy Wins

"My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am."

Author unknown

This is a picture of Phoebe's chance meeting with a stray puppy-dog on the mountainside of Ooty last year (that's a tea plantation you see in the background),

Hi Puppy
"Ooo, good puppy!"

This is the same scene a couple of seconds later,

Ow Puppy
"Ow owie! Don't bite! DON'T BITE!"

Don't worry about Phoebe. The pup was just giving her a playful nip.

This picture sits on my desk because it's hilarious as heck.

Laughs at his girlfriend often and loudly,
k0k s3n w4i