Saturday, December 04, 2004

Went shopping again on Orchard Road. This time we hit Scotts, Tangs, Lucky Plaza, The Heeren, Centrepoint and Cineleisure. Although our main objective was to walk down from Orchard MRT to PS, we never made it. There was just too much to look at between Orchard and Somerset to move any further than that.

Lunched at the Island Cafe on the top floor of Tangs. Very good local food at premium prices. Used to be, the place was just a self-service cafeteria where I would sometimes go for a reasonably priced lunch when I worked around the area back then. These days, it's been upgraded. Now, we have to 'wait to be seated' and we have a menu rather than a chalkboard to make our selections from. Wait staff are polite and top up our glasses with ice-cold water. Good eating places always ensure the water they serve is kept well-chilled.

I ordered a chicken bryani and it came with chicken curry on the side. Mmmm... tender boneless chicken in a spicy dry curry. June's Indonesian Fried Rice was a very generous mountain of rice fried in lots of shallots and some other spices I couldn't identify, but the flavour was just gorgeous. Accompanying the rice were 2 sticks of chicken satay, some chicken curry (same as mine), a handful of fried egg strips and another handful of keropok (prawn crackers). There was so much on June's plate, even I couldn't help her finish everything, and that's quite saying something. It was quite an expensive meal, considering the same dishes are usually a fraction of the price we paid, but then this meal was a level above the usual.

Major annoyance occurred when we were at the Heeren. When we took the escalator down from 3rd to 2nd floor we heard a dull thud, like someone had dropped something solid on the floor. We didn't bother to turn around and look but 5 seconds later we found out exactly what had fallen. From behind, a girl's voice made an apologetic exclamation just before something cold and very wet hit me on the shoulder soaking my right sleeve. The same wet substance splashed into June's sandal as well, though fortunately it had missed the shopping bag June was carrying.

The bimbo behind us had dropped a bottle of Coke then picked it up and immediately opened the bottle top. Of course the pressurized contents just shot forward and hit us who were standing right in front of her. We tried to wash the mess off us to the best of our ability, but we still spent the rest of the afternoon, June with a sticky foot and as for me, somehow the Coke residue on my sleeve reacted with I don't know what -- my sweat maybe -- and it stank like improperly dried laundry. Blecch.

We stayed out like that till about early evening. Nothing stops us from our Christmas window shopping, eh?
The first time I watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show was at a Halloween festival at York U. I'd heard it was a cult favourite though I didn't know why and I wanted to find out. I was in the midst of an audience, most of whom came wearing quite outrageous costumes. I thought they had dressed up for Halloween. Certain members of audience became quite unruly as soon as the movie started. They were chatting, some even shouting and making fun of the characters and situations on screen. I got annoyed when (uncooked) rice fell on my head at the opening wedding sequence. Rice-wedding, geddit? I got it. I realised that it wasn't just a few blokes trying to spoil the show, rather it was EVERYBODY who was part of the show.

The movie itself was a no-brainer, but people keep going back to watch it again and again because it is the experience of audience participation, the crazy atmosphere and the chance to do what is usually frowned upon because it breaks every rule of audience etiquette in the book. Just as there are lines on particular cues that everyone knows and everyone shouts out simultaneously there are also moments when individuals improvise lines and they can be hilarious as well, and we try to remember to include what we had heard into our 'script' for our next screening.

Many of the themes in the movie, and what got added on later by the audience, fell under our censors' scissors in the past: sexual conflict (homo vs hetero, not guy vs girl) being one of them. Recently the censors allowed it to be shown as an outdoor event during the Halloween period, but the audience here hasn't a clue as to how the movie is to be enjoyed. When I was in Hono last year I picked up the movie on DVD as it is impossible to obtain here in Singapore (thanks to the ban that ceased to be of relevance many years ago).

I finally put the DVD to use last night at Weng's place. He had invited a few guests over for our first screening, though we really could have used a much bigger crowd. Luanne was there, of course, Chang Wei and Celine too. And it was nice to see Debbie and Eugene again, students I had taught from a couple of years back.

Weng had set up an outdoor cinema of sorts using his garage wall as a screen. He provided the hot dogs and drinks, June and I provided egg salad sandwiches and a few crunchies. Only me, Weng, and someone else in the back (Chang Wei?) were calling out most of the time, the rest of the crowd, newbies, only contributing the obligatory, "asshole," "slut," "this man has no neck" responses whenever these characters appeared or mentioned their names, and tossing the various props that Weng had provided us with on cue.

It was a fun evening. We even pursuaded Weng to show us the short film he shot a couple of weeks back. He had asked me to be in it, but I was so busy with invig at the time I couldn't fit the schedule. Anthony took my place instead, his film debut -- oh, and Celine's too. Bad crowd to show his film to though, 'cos we were still in the spirit of RHPS. We heckled it as well, turning his 'serious' drama into an unintended comedy.

Looking forward to the next screening when we have a few less RHPS 'virgins' who can create a bigger disturbance and create a better atmosphere for the next set of newbies to join us. How 'bout it, guys?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Must be the week to view over-reachers and world conquerors. Last Friday it was Cheng Ho, today, Alexander. Where Troy was Hollywood fluff, Alexander is a textbook, and doesn't pretend to be anything else. This movie is from the perspective of one of Alexander's old surviving Generals as he dictates his memoirs of Alexander's great exploits to an eager, wide-eyed scribe.

Pretty much everything we know about ATG, director, Stone, faithfully retells in this 2+ hour long epic. How ATG gets his horse, how ATG takes his comparatively small army to take on and defeat the nasty Persians, how his ambitions take him to India and would have taken him to conquer western Europe, had he not died at an early age. There is suspicion of poisoning as a cause of his death, but Stone, as in history, does not point an accusing finger at any one particular entity.

There is political intrigue and more than a hint of ATG's bisexual tendencies, though this is not surprising considering the time he lived in. Battle scenes are thoroughly messy. Blocks and blocks of formations clashing in a dust-obscured orgy of violence from the bird's eye view, and numerous quick cuts of personal and intimate violence from the combatant's perspective.

Always gets me wondering whenever I see scenes of close-quarters melee combat: why do men drive themselves into the midst of such utter madness, where life and limb are almost guaranteed lost? It's part of our nature, I guess, since we haven't learned anything from past battles fought long ago. It's still happening today in many parts of the world, and it's still a part of our growing -up ritual as well -- our boys being conscripted into the army for 2 years' National Service.

The timing of this movie could be Stone's warning to the US regarding it's expedition in Iraq. ATG marched into Babylon to a great welcome after having defeated Darius in battle. The US likewise expected a great welcome in Baghdad after defeating Hussein, but it wasn't to be. The narrator, Ptolemy, caustically remarks that entering Babylon was a far easier exercise than exiting it. The US finds itself in the same position today. Since Babylon=Iraq geographically, the parallel can be no coincidence. (Late edit: Stone himself says it was a coincidence).

To those of us who already know the history of ATG, the movie puts a grand picture to the text we know by heart. But those who haven't a clue as to who or what ATG is, the movie can be pretty dry and tedious to sit through. Perhaps the presence of "pretty" boys (to quote from ill-fated Clitus' spiteful observation) who litter the cast might add some interest to this movie, since the babe factor seems to be missing save for maybe Angelina Jolie who plays ATG's mom. How ineligible.

One interesting side note. According to a Discovery Channel programme I watched a week or so ago, a former Scotland Yard head and a team of forensic scientists have recently discredited both theories that ATG may have died of disease and that he may have been poisoned by shady elements within his royal court. They looked at his symptoms before his death and matched them with those caused by a toxin found in a root of a plant common in Macedonia. This root was used as a remedy for depression at the time, and it is well known that ATG was majorly bummed at the death of his best friend (some say lover), Hephaistion. The truth of ATG's death may simply be that he overdosed on this root, basically killing himself because of bad medical practice. Not very romantic nor heroic.

Odd to see this quotation so soon after I mentioned in my entry from a few days ago: "Fortune favours the bold," Virgil (70 BC - 19 BC).
So, we've got our first Idol in the 'fik. Between the 2, he is the better choice to represent us on the world stage whereas Sly still needs a lot more polishing before he can match up. Strangely enough, I had always thought it would be an all girl final, seeing as talent-wise the girls seemed to have more presence and musical ability than the boys. Guess they just couldn't pull in the votes.

I have to compare the Idol series with the 'Talentimes' of years ago. With Idol, there is a marked difference from the time of the contestants first raw debut to the time the winner gets chosen. There is an effort to mould the contestants' image, up their entertainment value, build their fan base and develop their sense of professionalism in the business. Not bad for 6 months' work for them who used to be ordinary Joes n' Janes.

The Talentimes of old didn't bother with grooming the talents to this level. What you saw on their first appearance was usually what you got at the finals. Winning depended on the judges' final decisions, and thus there were fewer surprises and less drama in these old formats.

The Idol concept is certainly a lot more entertaining, particularly since there is greater emphasis on the relationships that develop amongst the contestants. Here there is the possibility of fleshing out the contestants' backstories, their comradeship (no bitter squabbles featured in this season's Idol, but perhaps next season?) and the idea that it's a friendly rivalry -- only one will win, but everyone must pull together and work together in order for everyone to have their chance of being the last man (or woman) standing.

Central controlling figures, the judges, only have the power to be critical but the power of selection is in the hands of the people. Likewise, the responsibility of choosing well is also the peoples'.

Funny how a TV programme can reflect our current political situation, and quite possibly the direction education is going to go from now on. Greater emphasis on individual responsibility, less decision-making by a central authority. I don't know how well this is going to work out in practice, but in theory it sounds good. Everything now depends on how wisely we choose from ever growing options, and how we act upon our choices.

Right. Enough rambling for one night. Go to bed, old-timer!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Went to Orchard Road to do some shopping. Wandered around Far East Plaza, Scotts, Isetan (Shaw House), and Wisma Atria. Looked at clothes. Lots of clothes. Actually bought some clothes. Women have lots of different types of clothes to choose from for different occasions. Lots of colours to mix and match. Why are men's clothes so boring?
Another evening of scaring kids with bad acting. Tonight's group of night walkers seemed even more serious and task oriented than Sunday night's. We started the night walk earlier, but we still ended about the same time. Things went quite quickly at my station, but perhaps I crippled too many heavy people so groups had to struggle to get to "Rivendell" for "healing" and had to take many rest stops along the way. They were slow. But good news was that there was no rain though the sky did threaten a little in the early evening. No rain means no mud and my boots were spared.

On the way out of camp, we had to stop the car to allow a large python to cross the driveway before we proceeded towards supper. The driveway is looooong and the python was quite a distance from our campsite but JY called camp to alert them on this latest sighting of local fauna anyway. From what I could see, since Amy's headlights were not shining directly on it, the snake's body extended to about half the width of the driveway and the head had already passed into the bushes on the left and couldn't be seen. Kinda' makes me wonder who else was with me while I was hiding behind my tree at my station during the night walk. Brr...

Supper was at Punggol Nasi Lemak near Hougang. It was already about midnight when we arrived. For $5 I got 2 chicken wings (one was for Vince), a fried egg (over-easy), a generous piece of otah, and a sprinkling of kacang/ikan bilis. Apart from the spoonful of nasi I accidentally dropped on my crotch, the meal was quite enjoyable. The food was tasty, and it was an alternative to 24hr prata. 2 nights in a row? No thanks.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Wow. Came home after midnight again. LTC duty was more fun than I thought. Started with going to Beach Road to pick up camo paints for some of the night walk characters manning the event stations along the way.

The Army surplus stores on Beach Road are great places to get outdoorsy equipment and cool militant fashion accessories. NS men resupply their disposable items here, get their tailoring done, and get non-standard items that look great though not necessarily field-approved.

The shopkeepers here reflect a savvy approach to total retail. Alongside the gung-ho looking shops draped to the max with field equipment and military apparel there are other shops selling female footwear, hair accessories, women's clothing, and if I'm not wrong, even ladies' headgear. This incongruity is puzzling at first, then I realized that guys in the market for army stuff tend to bring their girlfriends (and wives) with them. The women in tow are another potential market to exploit, so why not?

Me, June, JY and HP squeezed in Amy's car to get to MOE's Bhatera Campsite. For a campsite it's quite a nice facility. Cool-looking open-air stilted longhouse concept housing about 10-12 occupants each. Apart from having to sleep on mats on a hardwood floor (which actually isn't so bad) the place is quite comfortable. Our crew were not overnight stayers, though.

Our job was to role-play scenes from LOTR at certain designated stop-points during the night walk. Amy, Victor, Lena and I were at the first station and it fell to us to set the story for the night walkers to get involved in. Amy, the storyteller, narrated the history of the Ring. Frodo, played by Lena, appeared on the scene chased by an umm... orc(?) played by Victor. Victor had taped strips of garbage bag to the poncho he wore and with his face in camo paint he looked like a half-hearted sniper. But with his bent-over, shuffling gait he looked evilly animal-like in the moonlight.

I had the fun job. I was Strider coming to Frodo's rescue. Initially, the idea was to engage the orc with a flaming torch, but whoever prepared the torch was overenthusiastic with the cloth wrap and the amount of kerosene soaked into it. On a test lighting, the torch quickly became a raging inferno in my hand. Burning out of control (the torch, not me) I had to drop it and it took an entire bucket of sand to put out the flames. I had to settle for a stick with 2 glow-sticks taped to the end. The flames would have been dramatic, but we weren't prepared for an orc barbeque last night.

I also had to select a few of the night walkers to continue the walk simulating walking or visual disabilities. It took the night walkers some time for their imaginations to kick in. They had to discuss what they needed to do to get to the next station with their handicaps. I could tell what was in their minds was 'let's get this over with,' rather than 'oh, a game! Let's play!' Sad thing about our young these days: they tend to get serious over the wrong issues. Sigh. I guess it's the way we train them from young. Instead of the healthy immediately rendering assistance to the needy, they have a discussion over the rules of the game, job descriptions, task allocations, and the committee can't make a decision to save their lives. In this game, as in life, the fun actually lies in 3 little words: Just Do It! Thank you, Nike.

Other stations involved John and Thad squatting half-naked by a puddle playing Gollum's 2 personalities and getting bitten by ants and struggling to maintain character despite the discomfort. JY, HP and alumnus, Natty, were elves, faces painted with the glitter cube stuff June bought from the Body Shop in the afternoon. Other alumni played the roles of Shelob and Sam, and Gurmit was, of course, a convincing Gandalf thanks to his convincing beard.

2 cars drove out for supper after the debrief. Same company in Amy's car; Jeeves and guest, JJ, in Vince's. We descended on The Prata House, Thomson, where JY got the cheese prata she'd been craving all afternoon. June and I had a plaster and a kosong each and split a milo dinosaur. Considering that the rain was so terrible in the afternoon that it looked like waves crashing over the railing into our balcony and our staircase became an impressive waterfall into our void deck, prata made a nice end to a muddy, squelchy, slippery night walk.

5 groups to entertain last night, another 5 tonight.