Saturday, November 10, 2007

What was going to be a lazy, uneventful Saturday quite unexpectedly became an evening at Mount Vernon's Funeral Parlour 1. June's long-lost uncle whom she's not seen in years (yes, that's what 'long-lost' means...) passed on after a couple of months of health complications. From what I could understand, he finally succumbed to MRSA.

This evening, we attended the wake. It was something of a family reunion for June who hasn't seen many of her relatives for years either. While June was doing her catch-up, I was doing my best to glean whatever I could from several conversations that alternated between Mandarin and Cantonese. Fortunately, no-one tried to speak to me directly or June would have looked like she had married the village idiot with a speech impediment.

One thing I noticed about relatives who haven't seen each other for a while is that their conversations tend to turn towards how much things cost. Property, health-care, elderly care... not that people volunteer the information but because people will ask. People want to know how much things cost. Wonder if that's a typically S'porean concern?
After quite a few aborted attempts (this year), we finally got to meet Vince, Anthony and Des over dessert. Q-tip was with us, so we had to find a dog-friendly location. Happy Daze in Gardens was what we settled on.

It was great to talk nonsense and catch up with gossip again. Not a bad wind-down to a long day.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Partied with B-lo at Seoul Garden, Taka. It's quite a relief that she liked her pressie and wanted to use it immediately. So yesterday's shopping expedition ended well after all. Phew!

After dinner, June and I went down the hall to BEST Denki to try out an... appliance that I've had my eye on for a while. Since Sony's having an end-of-year sale, the price has come down quite a bit and since payday's coming, well, you know. The design's sleek and cool, the functions are versatile and idiot-proof (a very important consideration), and I was thinking, why not?

This was the first time ever that the sales guy actually talked me OUT of buying that which I came to buy. He basically told me -- based on previous customer feedback -- that the product had a great design, pretty with lots of bells and whistles, but was short on delivery. It is so idiot-proof it takes control out of the user's hands and makes its own decisions based on what it thinks is right. Too much software, not enough fidelity for me.

On one hand, that was a lot of honesty in a sales pitch. On the other, maybe his strategy was to get me to consider purchasing another more expensive option. Whichever it was, I left without making a purchase, but with a resolve to research a little more, and be a smarter consumer when I return another day.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Jack's Place has opened a franchise at SAFRA Yishun. It's called Eatzi Steakhouse & Bistro and it occupies the space that once housed the food court. Through the glass panels, there's a nice view of the swimming pool. Because of its air-conditioned comfort, this looks like a great place to have a lazy tea slightly later in the afternoon after the lunch crowd has left.

The pix shows the executive set lunch. Everything arrived at the table just minutes after ordering. As you can see, the baked potato is overflowing with a generous dollop of sour cream and a healthy sprinkling of bacon bits. The chef understands the concept of "rare", and there under a layer of brown sauce lies the ribeye on a bed of chopped onions.

One problem: they could have chosen for me a better cut of ribeye. Sad to say, this one was rather stringy with quite a bit of tendon material making it quite a chew-fest. Eventually, I took to cutting small chunks so it could go down easier. I'm not making too big a fuss about this though, because the meat itself was tender, it was the sinewy stuff that I could have done without.

Later, I went to explore the Central, looking for a gift. Central seems tres femme to me with so many stores for cosmetics, women's fashion and accessories. Thought that would be ideal to find the kind of gift I was looking for, but I got overwhelmed by the number of options and possibilities. So I went back to the mall I knew best, Funan Centre. Hence, this matching set of i-pod accessories.

Amy, HP, JY, Mel, Wayne, look what we've pooled our cash on for B-lo! See y'all at dinner tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Lamb" is a wicked retelling of the life of Josh the Nazarene through the perspective of Levi bar Alphaeus who is also called Biff, who has been friends with Josh since they were boys. Read "wicked" as you wish.

Author, Christopher Moore, takes the opportunity to fill in the gaps left behind in the Gospels regarding Josh's growing up period to the beginning of his ministry, then follows Josh behind the scenes to his eventual betrayal and execution on the cross. Biff's version of the Gospel story is, however, a very down-to-earth one focusing on Josh's humanity though not denying his divinity. In fact, the juxtaposition of human divinity is where the fun begins.

Biff is Josh's perfect human foil. Biff is foul-mouthed, violent, carnal, but also imaginative and a great improviser in times of trouble. Hence, he tells his version of the Gospel in like manner. His language we may describe as vernacular vulgaris in its crudest form, because 1) that's how Biff is, and 2) his newly presented "gift of tongues" gives him the ability to speak like a common profanity-spewing New Yorker, all the better to communicate with us in the modern world 2000 years after his death.

About the transitional years from boy to man that's missing from the Gospels, Biff picks up the story and relates their quest to find the wise men who visited Josh in the stable where he was born. From each wise man they study philosophy and discipline themselves in the skills they need for Josh's later ministry. To divine his Father's will, Josh focuses on developing his spirituality, while Biff studies poisons, explosives, the tantric arts and kung fu.

It's wonderful how Moore's imagination weaves together Josh and Biff's experiences on their travels to bring Josh to his particular insight into the nature of God, and the point of his ministry. Part of it is through coincidences in the texts of other holy scriptures, part is through life experiences Josh later recalls in his parables, and part is by making horrible puns. For example, because Josh absolutely refuses to hurt anyone, Gaspar's Himalayan monks have to develop a whole new martial arts style for him to practice. It's a style that uses the energy of an attack against itself. They call it, "Ju-do", meaning, "The way of the Jew". Arrrrggghhh! But when Josh is eventually tested and questioned by the Pharisees later in his life, the way he replies to them is a form of intellectual, rhetorical judo, isn't it so?

While all this mental juggling might sound pretty dry, Lamb is hilariously funny. Moore takes liberties with scriptural references, taking them out of context and using them in highly unlikely situations. He fleshes out the Apostles by assigning them each a fatal human flaw which they often tease each other about, and portrays them as extremely dense in the way that they don't get Josh's parables, and in their hopeless attempt to rescue Josh from his impending execution.

Despite all the profanity flung liberally around the pages, it's used as linguistic humour with no intention to insult the faith. Josh may be portrayed as quite human, but his character is respected. Biff himself, is almost always the butt of the jokes, and since he's never mentioned in any of the Gospels, Biff's the perfect straw-man to build the humour around.

Lamb is not going to be well-accepted by everybody, unfortunately. Because it plays on the sensitive issue of religious faith, it will highly offend those who feel that to take such liberties with sacred texts is sacrilegious. But those of us who can stomach it, Lamb's a terrific read.

Monday, November 05, 2007

It's hard to catch a falling star, but it helps if you have a magical binding chain and if the star could walk behind you on her own two legs wherever you wanted her to go. In "Stardust", everyone has a reason for desiring a piece of the star, Yvaine, who though minding her own business, gets accidentally knocked out of the sky in a contest for succession of the throne of the magical kingdom of Stormhold. And that's a simplified version of the movie plot.

To avoid overcomplication, the movie version of Stardust wisely keeps the focus on a single theme: no one is who they appear to be. Some, like the seven princes, have yet to achieve their potential and will kill and be killed trying. Others have their true identities taken away from them by enslavement or enchantment. Captain Shakespeare keeps his secret identity behind a mask of "reputation". Tristan's adventures are partially a discovery of his true heritage and partly a quest for his heart's desire.

Everyone experiences a transformational change, and though they don't necessarily welcome change, they simply accept it and cope with it as a matter of fact. The only ones that don't accept change are Lamia and her sisters (and probably Sisterhood as well). They are driven by their mania to freeze themselves in time, at the point when they were at their most beautiful, by hunting and consuming the warm, glowing heart of a fallen star. In their 400 years of existence, they have no other passion than lying to themselves that time can be cheated; and that's probably why they've ended up such bitter, malicious old biddies -- they never get what they desire.

And Yvaine herself, fallen star, is the only one who has no problems with her self-identity. She knows who she is and isn't shy to make full use of her self-knowledge. She becomes the movie's hottest quest item because of her extremely rare magical qualities, but her real value is in her power to be herself, true to herself at all times. Though that might sound boring, she's also sarcastic, short-tempered and entirely human, which rounds her out, and makes her quite a lovable character.

The plot may be complex, but Gaiman is quite a coherent storyteller. With gorgeous landscapes as a backdrop, and the occasional visual effects surprises (I was quite taken by the drowning-in-air sequence), Stardust is a thrill to watch. It's star shines especially bright as one of the few movies in 2007 that is not a sequel, and is not written to spin-off one either. It's a movie that practices what it preaches -- write it, shoot it, can it, and move on.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The recent gay debate has been very lively. Sparks flew from both camps with some very heated exchanges from people out to make a name for themselves adding spice to the contention.

For the rest of the population, frankly, we don't care. Perhaps today we are more aware of homosexual activity within our society, we are aware of the religious sensitivities of the more conservative segments of our society, we are aware of the tension that exists between the two poles. But as a people, we walk the deadest of the neutral line.

We don't have a problem with the issue. If no one says anything, we're fine. Everything's cool. It's all good. What we do have a problem with is when we feel we are being forced to take sides, to stand on one pole or another -- in critical thinking terms, we call that a "false dilemma". If it ever comes to that, we know what our stand will be: dropkick the extremist, and carry on pax status quo Rex, pardon my Latin.

Despite the vocal energy of both camps, I doubt that our society might be fracturing along the line drawn by Section 377A, like some people think. We're too apathetic for that to happen. Thank goodness.