Saturday, December 15, 2007

We and Jen are back at 1827 for Adrian and Mary's birthday. There are some new items on the menu and it's still cheaper to order a complete 5-dish set at $40 than go a la carte. The portions are a little small, but it makes sense to go with 5 dishes instead of ordering an el cheapo 4-dish option.

I had:
Home-cured salmon
White cod soup (cod a little underdone, but I think it was meant to be because when I got used to the taste, it was beautiful)
Seafood stew in otah paste
Pumpkin custard
Coffee (which, I guess, counts as the 5th dish)

Made plans for Christmas dinner over dinner, while pouring over Adrian's holiday snapshots from a couple of years ago which he only just developed. And we all (except Mary) agreed that the year has passed by so quickly.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The concept of "blood brothers" in "Warlords" is self-contradictory and self-defeating. Loyalty among men, especially fighting men, is paramount on the battlefield. There, survival depends entirely on brothers watching each others' backs. Life-debts get owed and repaid countless times over. There is no other binding force like facing death together, and surviving, of course.

Things get a lot more complicated in peace time. Loyalties are put to the test when it comes to deciding on how to treat unarmed prisoners-of-war. Ethics, morals, honour and justice are fine ideals, but the practicalities of war necessitates that such have to be put aside for the success of the campaign. Among the three sworn brothers, played by Andy Lau, Jet Li and Takeshi Kaneshiro, there's bound to be a difference of opinion in such a life-and-death decision, and an army can only have one commander.

Other conflicts arise over the division of the spoils of war, and the code-of-conduct of soldiers during the sacking of a fallen city. Lau's greatest concern is for the welfare of the men who serve in the regiment, while Li's war doctrine is victory at any cost. Kaneshiro is stupidly caught between the two poles, unimaginative and consequently unhelpful in his sorry attempts to keep the integrity of the brotherhood intact.

Their brotherhood is based on some rigidly inflexible premises. The blood they share comes from each of them slaying an innocent non-combatant captive; their oath prescribes death on any that comes between their brotherhood. Although Li says the oath, he also reveals that he does not believe in it. As a General of the Qing army, he knows that keeping such an oath is impossible. And when Qing Dynasty politics takes an interest in Li's Shan army, the brotherhood is doomed to fall apart.

Of the movies this year, "Warlords" comes closest to depicting war is hell. "300" boasts some lovely fight choreography, but "Warlords" is just brutal hand-to-hand melee combat. Li demonstrates some wushu technique but it is understated compared to the wild swinging of bladed weapons and the thrust of spears of men concerned not so much about winning as they are about just surviving to see another day.

The greatest tragedy is that this war means nothing to the people who are fighting it. Li's Shan army fights on the behalf of a government that cares nothing for it. The soldiers have enlisted only so that they have food to eat, and to send they wages back to their families who are otherwise destitute.

It's a dark movie, and the lack of pretty faces underscores this point. Lau at some angles reminds me of DiNiro, Li is heavy-set and balding, and Kaneshiro and his scraggly beard just looks goofy as he dithers between his two brothers. Even the female lead played by Xu Jinglei (who's she?) while reasonably pleasant-looking, is no mega-babe and we wonder why she is the object of affection for both Lau and Li, as if there's only one woman in all of China. While she isn't exactly a cause of conflict between the two, their triangular relationship does become too much for the dimwit Kaneshiro to process, and his response is legend among village idiots to this day.

Closing thought: The feast Li prepares in Lau's honour looked very much like what B-lo, Mel, NBS and I, and several other people around us were having for lunch today. That so many of us can now eat like how only Generals of the past could is quite a staggering thought. That's not something we should take for granted.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The boy called Liir grows up with more questions than he has answers for. Of his parentage he is uncertain, of his talents he apparently has none, his lot seems to be nothing more than being a target for bullying or otherwise suffering. His purpose in life? Dunno.

When we first encounter him in Maguire's "Son of a Witch", he's in such bad shape he practically has to be scraped off the desert floor with broken bones, a broken face, and bordering on death. His shallow breath and his erratic heartbeat are his only signs of life. How he got there and in this condition is also a question that needs an answer.

"SoW" is the sequel to "Wicked" in which Liir is introduced as a permanent tag-along of Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West. By proximity alone Liir is assumed to be Elphaba's illegitimate son, but there is no evidence of any biological bond between the two in "Wicked".

Apart from Liir's history, "SoW" also explores how this nobody of a character -- plagued with uncertainty, inertia and self-doubt -- attempts to cope with growing up, orhaned and abandoned as he is after the watery demise of his guardian, Elphaba.

But Liir is no hero, as such. Liir's flawed sense of self leads to a tragedy that will haunt him for life, and in atonement he undertakes a series of loosely related tasks that sets him against the new political-military machine that has arisen since the Wizard's departure from Oz.

Liir must live a very frustrating life. From Dorothy (from Kansas) to the Elephant disguised as a human princess, Liir manages to find closures to their quests, and others besides. But for himself, well, let's just say that he doesn't demand much out of life, perhaps just some answers to his questions, and even then he finds that in life there are always more questions than there are answers for. How familiar that sounds.

What's admirable about Liir is that his questions determine his actions. Hence, for the most part, he really is quite a self-directed individual. It's only when he subordinates his questioning mind to the will of others, that's when his greatest regret occurs.

In life, having questions with no answers is better than accepting answers with no questions. Any questions?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The rains of the last few days washed out our cycling plans at Ubin. Plan-B it had to be: ice-skating at Ice Palace. What better way to acknowledge that winter is now upon us? The rink was packed with kids, it being "Students' Day" and they are off on their Christmas break. With such little room to maneuver, I was happy just to weave in and around the throng, round and round like a goldfish in a bowl.

But if I was a goldfish, there were piranha and 'cuda sharing the same bowl with me and the little fry clustering around the edges of the ice. The hockey guys had their throttles on 'high' and they were finding spaces to power through like the Millennium Falcon in an asteroid field. There were the gripes and grumbles about them, like how dangerous their play was and how nervous they made the other skaters feel. But where else could have they gone to practice what they love doing? I was marveling at how despite their tight constraints, they were still able to express themselves in the way they knew how. As far as I could tell, they didn't bump anyone, so hey, y'know, they have more right to be on the ice than the rest of us.

We had a small convoy bound for Seafood Paradise in Defu for dinner. This was to make up for not being able to have seafood under the sunset on Ubin. I doubt we could have had better fare on Ubin, though. Mmm... oatmeal prawns... chili crab... butter crab... apart from the sides shared among our table for eight. Gotta be fast eating with these guys, though. Wonder who made off with my mantou when I wasn't looking?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Welcome to Barrow, Alaska, where for one month every year, it remains night-time until sunrise, 30 days later. In "30 Days of Night", just as the sun begins to set for a month, a dingy icebreaker arrives bearing a crew full of pale-skinned, ill-tempered people with very bad teeth. Unfortunately for them, the local orthodontist has just flown off to spend his hard-earned cash on a sunny vacation in Florida. The strangers unsurprisingly go ballistic and turn the town upside-down.

"30 Days" is yet another movie in the survival horror genre. Only here, the survivors are hopelessly outclassed and outmatched by the visitors. Bullets don't even slow them down, so pretty soon, the town's population takes a drastic reduction with the visitors' onslaught.

In one breathtaking sequence, the camera tracks across town from a directly-overhead perspective, depicting the carnage as it takes place. Silhouetted against the snow, people get pounced on, sliced, diced and chomped on, leaving a brilliant crimson splatter on pristine white. Occasionally, we see flashes of gunshots, but we know it's a foregone conclusion. The view reminds me of an RTS simulation where things have gone badly wrong for your side. >Game over!<

For the handful of survivors to stay alive, there is no confronting the enemy. They stay quiet and hidden, doing nothing to attract any unwanted attention to themselves. That's a little difficult when among the survivors are a cantankerous Alzheimer's sufferer who needs his walkies, and a paranoid "I can't just sit here and die" nervous wreck.

To last 30 days in a frost enshrouded wreck of a town surrounded by a boatload of bloodthirsty predators, supplies are going to be a problem, and I don't remember there being much discussion on how the toilet facilities were going to work. Sneaking around, trying to stay quiet, hiding, all make for tense storytelling. Doors that don't lock very well, windows that expose too much, walls made of flimsy wood instead of reassuring concrete, the survivors' hiding spaces provide very little sense of security, and we feel it too.

Was it the scare-fest that I was expecting? Well, there were shocks a-plenty; some gory, disquieting scenes; and the atmosphere was taut throughout. Not a bad mix for a thriller, but I doubt that it will make a lasting impression on me. My mind's already too far scarred for that.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The mandatory vehicle inspection that I had to put M2 through was pretty thorough, and I got to watch the mechs put him through his paces. All the tests are in the open and there are signboards explaining what each station checks for.

The tests include an identity check to make sure the car you say is yours is yours, and no illegal mods. There is the brake test, and what appears to be an anal probe checking that exhaust levels are within tolerable limits. They check for engine noise at max rpm to ensure a happy car and happy neighbours.

Result: flunked the wheel alignment test and the headlight focus test. While I might have thought M2 was the picture of perfect health, guess I didn't realise he was actually myopic and limping around.

Had to make an appointment to have Mazda take fix up M2 before going for a retest. I do so hate the "F" grade.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Aunt L's 80th birthday! The clan got together to celebrate at Ah Yat Seafood Restaurant. For some reason we seem to like that place a lot.

Our 3 tables comprised 3 generations of family plus extended family we've not met before from Sabah, but who are now settled here. My table had a lot of engineering talk with notes being compared between the construction, shipbuilding and manufacturing industries. The topic of industrial accidents came up a lot, keeping us well entertained throughout our dinner.

The delectable confection in the pix (i.e., on the table, not behind the table) is a meringue cake from Canelé Pâtisserie Chocolaterie. It's light and sweet, and overgrown with lots of fruity surprises. Even the Shou figurine is made of sugar, though I doubt anyone would want to eat that.

More pix here.