Born to play

“Parker: Troy! Mac Parker. Ever hear of Planet of the Apes?
Troy McClure: Uh … the movie or the planet?
Parker: The brand-new multimillion dollar musical. And you are starring … as the human.
Troy McClure: It’s the part I was born to play, baby!”
– The Simpsons

I’m keeping this short so that I can devote myself to some serious PLAY.

Today, I am home alone. No, my mother didn’t run away. She took a coach to Kapital KL to spend some quality time with relatives.

Playing mahjong.

Even my mother has a life.

We were born to play. Hence, the name ‘Born Loser’ for some of us.

I am looking for a playground for adults.

Is there such a thing?

Some have suggested clubs and nightspots. Well apart from the problems of excruciating smoke, bad actors and eternal damnation, I have a strange visual ailment that renders everyone much more attractive than they actually look. Also, as a rule of thumb, I generally avoid activities that involve bodily fluids.

I sweat like a pig.

I cannot remember the last time where I really played hard and enjoyed myself. It’s time that I dedicate myself wholly to this issue of PLAY and get my priorities right. It will be great to observe kids and I am sure I have a lot to learn from them.

Well, I wish you sweet pranks, foolish senses, continual pretty madness and great great fun.

On my command, unleash Hell.

Everybody hurts

“9 strangers met.
On the net.
killed themselves.
Boy, that was sad.”

I am not about to talk about suicide. The hows, the whats or the whys. I feel utterly disqualified, having no authentic experience, having no longing for eternal separation.

Killing yourself requires a measure of courage, of which I have none.

The bravest thing I’ve done was to threaten to run away from home, but not before I asked my fuming mother for a tumbler of water. At the age of seven, I have already mastered the basic tenet of extreme survival and realized the overwhelming superiority of water over food.

I think it must be this fluid request that got the winds of diplomacy blowing.

Basically, it saved my ass.

Boy, how the tables have turned.

My mother is a guest in my home.

Ok, let’s talk about REM’s Everybody Hurts.

When I first heard it, I thought it was an angry song for moaners and losers.

And I was Loser Numero Uno.

Now that I am no longer on Top of the Dorks, this song still has a special place in my heart. Let’s face it.

Everybody hurts.

Michael Stipe once commented the song no longer belonged to REM but to the world at large.

I wonder if the song turned out to be a total dud, would he have said the same? Would he have so openly shared his trash, his junk, his shit and dedicate these to the world?

I think about the 9 young people who killed themselves. Maybe they found the world a little impatient with their weakness, a little intolerant of their imperfection. Maybe they were willing to share their trash, their junk, their shit but the world wasn’t ready for them.

I think about the moments before they actually logged off from life, whether they had moments of hesitation. I think about the last thing they see in their mind before they end it. An object? An incident? A person? Would I have died for an object? Would I have died over an incident?

I wonder if I would have shown them a smile, a gesture, an act of kindness, whether it would make a difference.

Maybe I was a little impatient with their weakness, a little intolerant of their imperfection. Maybe I wasn’t ready for their trash, their junk and their shit.

Forgive me.

I will do better.

Just hold on.

Glory days

“And leaves you with nothing mister but
Boring stories of glory days”

-Bruce Springsteen

I was about to begin a series of posts on the most beautiful songs in my world when Richard the Lionheart enquired:

“Ask yourself whether you ‘write for a living’ or you ‘live to write'”.

Much as I like good old rock and roll, I wasn’t about to deny Richard.

Blame it on my post-colonial mentality, if you like.

God save the King.

I wish I can tell you I live to write.

I wish I can tell you I write for myself. That I write because I have something to say. That I write in search of self-discovery and amazing adventures. I wish I can tell you that I worship words, wisdom and wit. I wish I can say “I write, therefore I am”.

But I can’t.

And I certainly don’t write for a living.

So why do I write?

In the place of a real answer, I offer you a story.

When I was 9, I took part in a story-telling competition in school. My first time telling a story. My first time in front of a big crowd. On that fateful day, I launched into the story and halfway through, to my horror, I realized that I did not introduce myself. So, I stopped.

And introduced myself.

In the middle of the story.

My friends told me I came in last.

No kidding.

(If only the judges had seen Annie Hall, they would have recognized my genius.)

3 years later. Another story-telling competition. I was nominated again to take part. Apparently, everybody forgot my humiliation.

But I didn’t.

So I worked hard. Tape recorders, mirrors and mother. My weapons in this war against the tyranny of shame.

The day came. I introduced myself. And I told a beloved Chinese story involving a dying old man, his quarrelsome sons and a bunch of chopsticks.

I whispered, I raised my voice, I changed my pitch for each character. I executed every word as I have done in my rehearsals. I was consumed, with belief and with passion.

Until that day, I never knew how the time between “Thank you” and hearing the applause could be so long and yet so rewarding. I never knew how it was like for strange people to come to you and pat you on the back, one after another. I never knew how it was like for the Tiger Woods of storytelling, the champion of champions, to come and humbly lay his crown before you.

And I never knew how deafening and rewarding applause can be. Or how by some strange form of magic, the applause and the heart beat as one.

I gave my all in that competition. And I received so much more.

I miss the passion. I miss the adoration. I miss the glory days.

Perhaps, that is why I write.

A museum of the dead

“We unearthed the Earth and found a dead museum…”
– Judith Huang’s The Apocalypse Museum

Hail, young Singaporean poets.

But first, let us talk about death, this Morbid Monday.

Did you know that where C K Tang and Ngee Ann City stands, there used to be burial grounds?

A twist to the shop-till-you-drop idea.

Just imagine, if we were to have a cemetery, a museum of the dead, if you like, in the heart of the city, what would that be like?

I, for one, think it’s great.

A museum to commemorate our dead. Our heroes, our fallen comrades. I don’t mean a structure like the Civilian War Memorial but a proper resting place with tombstones, exhibits, gift shops.

Ok , maybe not the gift shops.

America has Arlington. Britain has Westminster Abbey. We only have Chua Chu Kang, which now sounds slightly ludicrous, thanks to a contractor in yellow boots.

Think about the day when the great Patriarch of this country makes a graceful exit from the First World to the Next World. Where is he going to go? What are the arrangements going to be like? Will a grateful nation be able to give a proper farewell? Will his resting place accommodate the thousands of grieving schoolchildren paying their annual tributes?

I am sure many will call for His Body to be preserved in state.

Like Lenin and another Great Leader, Kim Il Sung.

We can do with 2 less shopping centers. But we cannot afford to have anything less than a grand institution for the resting place of our Beloved Father.

In the heart of the city, it must lie.

Something to think about. But for now, may that day be far away. I wish our Great Leader and all my readers good health.

And peace.

Again, congratulations, Dawn and Judith.

Singapore Idol?

Did you see the Singapore Idols’ American Pie music video?

What a nice job.

For a song with such pensive lyrics, I thought the Idols did rather well. Lots of energy and smiles all round. So much optimism in our young generation!

I wish there was a shot of the Stars and Stripes though. That would have made it perfect.

Some able-bodied seaman on shore leave would have provided the much-needed eye candy.

Still, it’s a great start and I’m looking forward to more music videos. Here’s a list of songs that would probably feature:

1) God Bless America
2) New York, New York (Frank Sinatra)
3) I Left My Heart in San Francisco (Tony Bennett)
4) I Love L.A. (Randy Newman)
5) Do You Know The Way to San Jose? (Dionne Warwick)
6) Kansas City (James Brown)
7) Georgia on My Mind (Ray Charles)

I can hardly wait to stand beside thousands of Singaporeans at the Singapore Idol finals for a heartful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

It is a Uniquely Singapore trait in celebrating another’s culture so so passionately.

My home sweet home.

Why is a funny question

Why is a funny question.

I look at myself in the mirror and ask why am I so fat.

I am fat because I eat a lot.
Why do you eat so much then?
Maybe because my mom likes to stuff my plate.
In her childhood, she didn’t have much to eat and so she wants the best for me.
Making you fat is the best she can do?
No. She could have cuddled me more when I was a baby. But then, I was a Beefy Baby.
So it’s your genes huh?
Yeah, or maybe it was too much breast milk.
Ahhh, so you were a mean sucker then?
How would I know? I was a cherub.
Blame God then.
Yeah. He probably saw my Fat Inner Child.

Ever had children ask you why questions endlessly? (Or adult friends, like Juvenile Jo (Malacca), who habitually whines, “But why?”)

Girl, you must eat your carrots.
It will make you healthy.
Why must I be healthy?
Then you will be as fit and pretty like your mother.
Why can’t I be like you, my fat father?

I propose we ban the teaching of the word “Why” to children below the age of 10. Maybe even 14. It will instantly elevate the quality of life for parents everywhere. But kids being kids will still find ways to get away with it. But I promise you this – No Whys saves Lives.

Witness the following scenario:

Daddy, can you buy this toy for me?
No way.
(Pause, since he can’t ask why) So how am I able to get you to buy this toy for me?
You have to make sure you get to college and not get fired on The Apprentice Season 22!
Father, I promise you I will work hard to deserve this toy and earn your love and affection. I love you dad.

I rest my case.

Culture of fear

a presentation I did last year:

Hail to the Thief” is the name of Radiohead’s latest album. It is not a perfect pop record. It is not something you play at most parties. But it is a record that perfectly reflects the state of the world as it is today.

Songwriter Thom Yorke, says the thief in the name refers to:

“forces that aren’t necessarily human, forces that are creating this climate of fear. … certain people are able to inflict incredible pain on others… They’re taking people’s souls from them before they’re even dead. I was just overcome with all this fear and darkness. And that fear is the ‘thief.’”

Fear is the new F word of our generation. Fuck is no longer cool. Fear, however, is a present phenomenon. Through the media, the culture of fear has become a predominant framework in which we look at issues today. This fear machine tells us that all is not well. Danger is everywhere and that visible and invisible forces are ever waiting, to devour and to destroy. The culture of fear tells us to trust and empower our Government fully if we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The culture of fear tells us to open our wallets to the fear merchants of Corporations or life will be miserable. The culture of fear demands that we use the mass media solely to navigate a world that is increasingly dangerous and out of control.

It’s true that after September 11, the world does look a lot bleaker and grimmer. Turn on the news and you have enough fears to last a lifetime. Wars. Terrorism. Unemployment. Wage cuts. Epidemics. Cancer. Senseless crimes. These are serious concerns. The question we need to ask is that: has the news media been reporting the news fairly, completely and without bias? We believe that a culture of fear exists in the media. We believe that the news media uses sensationalism, selective reporting, omission of facts, disproportionate coverage, media silence to generate problems and make things look worse than they seem. The public, in fear and trembling, will then turn to the governments, the corporations, and the media themselves for solutions. But salvation comes at a price. It will cost you your freedom, your integrity and the ability to do the right thing.

I first came across the culture of fear in a documentary called “Bowling for Columbine”.

Bowling for Columbine looks at gun violence in the United States. Here are some figures for comparison.

(Refer to PowerPoint)

Michael Moore, the director, blames the U.S media for propagating a culture of fear. Although violent crime has gone down 20%, news coverage of those crimes have gone up 600%. The media distorts the facts and sensationalize the news. Indeed, good news is just plain uninteresting. Instead of reporting just the facts, the news media is geared towards entertainment, voyeurism, and oversimplified solutions. It’s sexy to report about the black man who robs, rapes, loots and pillage the white woman and her child. It’s sexy to report about 2 teenagers who listens to Marilyn Manson and therefore guns down their schoolmates. But it’s not sexy for the media to report that black people are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. It’s not sexy for them to report that the majority of the young who listen to loud, angry music get on by with very normal lives. It’s sexy to report what is simple, dogmatic and absolute. It’s not sexy to report what is complex, hypothetical and relative.

With horrifying and sensational headlines, people are terrified. Divorced from the actual reality, they perceived danger to be everywhere.

(play Manson video)

“You’re watching the news. You’re being pumped full of fear. There are floods, there’s AIDS, there’s murder. Cut to commercial. Buy the Acura, buy the Colgate. If you have bad breath, they’re not going to talk to you. If you have pimples, the girl’s not going to [Audio Deleted] you.

And it’s just this — it’s a campaign of fear and consumption. And that’s what I think it’s all based on, is the whole idea that, keep everyone afraid and they’ll consume.”

Therefore, frightened people buy guns. And guns often fall in the wrong hands. Just like the fateful day at the Columbine High School.

The culture of fear allows powerful corporations and governments to set agendas through the media. High awareness of crime benefits the very powerful gun industry and the prison-industrial complex. Health crisis benefits the powerful pharmaceutical and medical research companies.

Fear of terrorism has resurrected the arms industry. Fear of terrorism has allowed governments to enact powerful, draconian laws that threaten our civil liberties.

Hence, corporations and governments often exaggerate “crisis” or invent them, ultimately benefiting themselves. More often than not, the media cooperates since crisis always leads to higher viewership and readership. Thus, the false prophets of media, corporations and governments work through the culture of fear to sell papers, products and policies – and it does so very well.

The culture of fear works because fear is such a powerful emotion. It can cloud our judgment and make us irrational. Like Metallica says, “it’s hard to see clear, is it me, is it fear?” Fear can become so dominant that other perspectives lose out. Fear of crime makes a frightened public cry out for more protection and more justice. But experts will tell you the most effective way to combat crime is to reduce poverty and improve education. But Americans spent billions of dollars on guns and prisons when they should be spending on housing and schools.

The culture of fear is not just an American phenomenon. My esteemed teammates will share you with their greatest fears in this trying time. Indeed, today, we face great challenges as a nation. Let us be seriously concerned with these issues. Let us look at these issues in the eye and deal with them. Let us not be overcome with anxiety and let us not be paralyzed by fear.

Above all, let us, with an informed mind and self-belief, do the right thing.


A few reasonable words

Is it possible to “speak a few reasonable words” everyday as Goethe exhorts us?

What is reasonable to me may not be reasonable to you.

At 7.43 every weekday morning, I join the queue for bus 111. The bus interchange, where I am, is small and has 3 services. Basically, it is a glorified bus stop with buses parked in front. There’s an electronic signboard that announces the plate number of the next bus in service. Unofficial but orderly queues will form. Others prefer to sit or hover around the bus entrances.

When the time comes to board, many of those who sit or hover around do not seem to see the queue. They wait for no one and climb onboard as soon as they can.

I can’t understand this.

What do you say to these people?

“Madam, let me reason with you. You were sitting down for the last 5 minutes while others made the effort to queue. The bus has never been full and there are seats for everyone. Surely it is not too much for you to wait a little while for them to board? How will you feel if you’re in the queue and a whole bunch of people come barging in and behaving like you’re not there?”

Is this a reasonable thing to say?

I would think yes.

Another reasonable conversation I would like to have with some of my traveling companions goes something like this:

“Sir, I do understand that you may have been blessed with an extraordinarily big package and it looks like you’ve been having too many carbohydrates. But is it reasonable if I ask you not to put your knees on the back of my seat? The seats are pretty thin and every time you shift and move, I get knocked about. How would you feel if I’m sitting behind you and I keep pounding your back?”

That is another conversation I am not going to have.

I used to direct actors. Being influenced by Judith Weston, I work with actors on actions and objectives, and avoid explicit directions. In the end, I found out that it’s great working this way but it’s not for everybody.

Some animals are more equal than others.

This is not to say that actors are animals, of course.

Gothe gives great advice. It is good to speak a few reasonable words every day. But choose your audience. I can’t choose my fellow wayfarers on 111 but I can choose to be quiet.

And smile.

Choosing a name is too hard

Choosing a name is too hard.

For now, I have decided to name this blog “the simple life” because life is pretty simple.

For now.

But is it always?

Fortunately, we can rename this blog. Today, it is the simple life. Tomorrow, life could be enigmatic. Tune in next week and you will find life to be simply unfathomable.

Or unfathomably simple.

It’s nice to know I can have a blog name that reflects my attitude to life.

I predict, in the very near future, people will be able to change their names as often as they like. Today, I can be Tom. Tomorrow morning – Dick. In the evening, call me Harriet.

Names will not matter because the system will see us as a series of numbers that reflects our country of origin, race, genetic makeup, etc (Much like Jaguar cars)

Names as they are in their present form do tell you something about their owners. Of course, some names reveal a lot more about their parents. Names in this form have its limitations. Parents do not have hindsight when they name their baby Grace, who can turn out to be a real bitch. And John Kennedy can be a real failure with the ladies.

I think we can learn a thing or two about names from hip hop culture. First of all, rappers’ names are brilliant and they tell you a lot about them. Also, names such as J Lo and P Daddy evolve with the personalities and alter egos behind them.

Technology has altered how we see ourselves and the things around us. Our sense of identity and self are constantly fluid, changing and even multiplied. It will just be a matter of time where our names are allowed to be interchangeable.

For now, let it be known that you’re reading “the simple life”.

Tomorrow though, will be a different story.