Friday, April 30, 2010

Designer Degrees

In the current university system, you have to pick a pre-established discipline under which to complete your studies. Whether it's as recent as queer studies, as old as history or somewhere in the middle like sociology, you are forced to spend your intellectual life informed by and informing these arbitrary divisions of knowledge.

I believe that learning is at its best when innovation is at its highest, and in my world of information overload and constantly evolving subject matters, interdisciplinary study needs to be the norm, not the exception. I demand the freedom to design my own unique kind of studies. While the current divisions of knowledge have been serving humanity adequately for centuries, I believe that humanity can serve itself brilliantly instead if only we give each other more faith to experiment, realign and transform the lens through which we organise knowledge.

Just as each person is unique, nobody brings the same influences into a study of, say, economics. So instead of trying to fit their wide-ranging interests and flexible self-identity into the narrow confines of a longstanding, one-size-fits-all discipline, a student would have a lot more fun and learn more if they were encouraged to create their own (both general and specific) area of study. They could create their own field as they go, and give it their own name, like perhaps Epiphanie Studies (studies by or about Epiphanie).

Already you can study the psychology of film or the sociology of politics in some of the most progressive institutions (such as the University of East London), but I want to see a world of honourable hybrids, and popular idiosyncrasies, such as Innovation Studies, Postmodern Studies and Meta Studies. Should a university allow me to create a space for myself which celebrates the unique facets of my personality and encourages me to adopt an increasingly inventive outlook, I would go back to university in a flash.

In my case, I am very interested in postmodern texts. That is not to say that I don't find value in texts created prior to the 1960s, it's just that I'm passionate about, and bring the most to my analysis of, postmodernism. Why should I be bored with Chaucer when I could be enlivening myself with Calvino? Why struggle with Dostoyevsky when I could be honing my appreciation of Derrida? I regard texts prior to this age as backward, and I have no time for them.

I have chosen to be an independent intellectual because I like to transform the already established into something new and fresh. I read widely, and my writing represents the diversity of my influences. When a university asks me to think inside a box, I have instinctual disregard for its authority. Yet the boxes sometimes threaten to overwhelm me.

If something does not help me innovate, I have no need for it in my life.

So I keep in touch with the university vibe, the academic verses, the PhD hype and the latest journal articles. But I don't make university design my personal aesthetic. I look to my own self for notions of the uncategorisable, the multivalent, the proliferating streams of thought, which inspire me to keep asking questions and challenging convention. I do this because I am confident about myself, and genuinely care about others.

Remember to play! Stand defiant; be proud of your originality. Leave behind the nay-sayers who would have you conform to mainstream intellectual life. I know that I am happiest when I am at my most questioning, and I wouldn't have it any other way! :o)

Eye On The Lower Case

I have been online for 15 years now, and in that time I have been fascinated by the evolution of online communication. I often see my friends, acquaintances or random people on the net skip the shift button before entering the pronoun I, and have often wondered why.

Is it because writing all in smaller case provides some kind of freedom? Is it progressive to knock down the differentiation between capitalised and non-capitalised words, and have the reader rely on context to create their own system of significance?

Or

Is it that a failure to accentuate I is the product of low self-esteem? Is the writer, in relation to the rest of the words she or he is writing, failing to recognise their full worth?

I have noticed that people are more likely to write "i" when they have made an error, or aren't feeling confident through what they are writing, so I think the second option is the one which is more frequently relevant.

I know a fair deal about handwriting analysis, and how people use their keyboards is also fascinating... writing all in caps seems to imply a lack of self-confidence as well (it's the equivalent of people speaking very loudly for no reason). More than one space in between words on a regular basis seems to imply a jittery keyboard user. Using more than three dots on an ellipses could be over-embellishment...

What are your insights into typing styles?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Confessions Of A Travel Junkie

I did it, somehow. It may not be the three months I was hoping for, but it will be 42 days remarkably well spent. It feels like too much, too soon, but who deserves it more than me, after the cruel indignities of the last four or five years?

I mentioned on Postmodern Critic that I have been through some tough times during its lifetime. These seem poised to fade into the background, especially as I find lucrative new unproblematic experiences to replace them with. I hope I will able to find the positive in everything I currently regard as negative about the recent past.

Anyway, I did it. Regardless of whether or not I stick strictly to the itinerary of the previous post, I have 4 full days in Seoul, and the period between the 23rd of June and 27th of July will be exclusively devoted to central and northern Europe.

I have a wonderful friend who's going to host me in Uppsala, Sweden's fourth largest city, and I will find some CouchSurfers who are willing to host me in Seoul, Prague, Berlin and Copenhagen. I'm not sure if I'll have money for Vienna, but if I do, I will find people there as well...

I have wanted to go to Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Denmark and Sweden for a long time, and my interest in South Korea blossomed during a visit to the British Museum, when looking at the objects on display from this fascinating nation. (Did you know that when Korean people want to look like they are smiling open-mouthed for the camera they say 'kimchi'?)

At the moment there are so many aspects of the trip to delightedly concern myself with that it's almost worrying. How much focus on Seoul is enough before I move on? Should I research the places in the order in which I plan to travel to them, or as they come? What kind of guidebook(s) do I need?

My biggest worry at the moment is money: I don't have a lot for it. Couch Surfing will be strictly necessary every step of the way, which is actually a beautifully enriching addition to my trip... Ultimately cities are so interesting because of the people that make them buzz. By finding a select number of individuals who can introduce me to their unique perspective on the city, I will make more friends and be more aware of the locals' perspectives. I guess searching for my next host can be intimidating, though... it's hard to tell if you're going to hit it off with a person based on a few photos and a few short spurts of information.

My guess is that I will have money for two sights a day in Europe... so I'd better plan them well! Perhaps I am trying to see too much, I don't know. Perhaps instead of trying to add Vienna into the picture I should spend more time in Denmark or Germany or Sweden. Hmm, I believe I'm onto something...

I told my Swedish friend I'd be in Uppsala around the 6th, but I could delay this by two or three days. The longer I spend in one place the better. Ideally I would like to spend some time in Malmo or Goteborg. Travel between places, however, will be my biggest expense, and I will already be using up money for: [Prague to Berlin], [Berlin to Copenhagen], [Copenhagen to Roskilde], [Roskilde to Copenhagen], [Copenhagen to Uppsala] and [Uppsala to Prague]. Unless I hitchhike or find free, scheduled rides between places on the web, these fares will wreak havoc on my budget. Not to mention, I need $170 for the Roskilde Festival.

Before I start boring you entirely with prices... Maybe I should just focus on Denmark and Sweden, leave Berlin behind. But then again, Berlin is the least expensive of any of these destinations. If I were to add Aarhus and Helsingborg, for example, I would spend even more on transportation, though the small city/town costs would be easier on my wallet.

Guess I still have some decision-making to do. Do you have any advice?

The European Union has just declared that being a tourist each year is a human right, and they will start partially sponsoring the holidays of the economically disadvantaged to different places in Europe. Do you take your travel as seriously as that? Why?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Finding the S(e)oul Within

I'm not just a little thrilled to be finally heading to South Korea this June, where I will be exploring Seoul, the beauty-challenged, vibrant and technologically gifted capital, and Gyeongju, the beautiful temple-covered, monument-bespeckled cultural town that everyone in Korea regards as the most special spot in the country.

Did you know adultery is technically illegal in Korea? Many see this law as outdated, but you can still spend prison time if you cheat on your spouse - up to two years! I found this out at Asia Offbeat, dedicated to 'weird stuff straight out of Asia' - worth a look in your spare moments!

I don't know anyone who's been to Korea, unless they're originally Korean, so it feels a bit 'off the beaten track' - for me, anyway. I'm sure New York would be off the beaten track for someone who spent most of their time in Tibet. (Speaking of, apparently you can reach Tibet from Nepal again without having your Chinese visa confiscated.)

I look forward to finding out what is distinctive about South Korea; what will draw an Asia lover who is more familiar with Japanese and Chinese culture...

This anointment of the Seoul will be followed up by 35 days of mesmerising myself in Europe's harsh caress. Reproduced below is my European itinerary. If you think I can find time to fit you in, by all means get in touch! :o)

22nd June: Arrival in Prague in the evening
23rd: Prague
24th: Prague
25th: Prague in the morning & travel to Berlin in the afternoon
26th: Berlin
27th: Berlin
28th: Berlin
29th: Berlin
30th: Berlin in the morning & travel to Copenhagen in the afternoon
1st July: Copenhagen
2nd: Copenhagen
3rd: Cop - Roskilde - Cop
4th: Copenhagen
5th: Copenhagen to Stockholm (should I go by bus, train or ferry?)
6th: Stockholm to Uppsala
7th: Uppsala
8th: Uppsala
9th: Uppsala
10th: Uppsala
11th: Uppsala
12th: Uppsala
13th: Uppsala
14th: Uppsala
15th: Uppsala
16th: Uppsala
17th: Uppsala
18th: Uppsala
19th: Uppsala
20th: Uppsala
21st: Uppsala
22nd: Uppsala, fly to Vienna in the evening
23rd: Vienna
24th: Vienna
25th: Vienna
26th: Vienna in the morning to Prague in the afternoon
27th: Prague for return journey

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pico Iyer on Thailand (in Video Night in Kathmandu)

On comparing Bangkok to other places:

"Bangkok, in fact, had a glamour and a sparkle that far outshone those of Bombay, Casablanca, even Athens; smartly done up in art nouveau restaurants chandeliered super-luxury hotels, it glittered with a fast and flashy style that would not have been out of place in Paris or San Francisco. Yet more than anywhere else, Bangkok reminded me of L.A. Not just because its 900,000 cars (Epiphanie's note: this was published in 1988) were forever deadlocked, or because its balmy skies were perpetually smoggy and sullen with exhaust fumes. Not even because  it was, both literally and metaphorically, spaced out and strung out, sprawling and recumbent and horizontal (where New York and Hong Kong, its true opposites, were thrustingly, busily, ambitiously vertical). Mostly, the "City of Angels" reminded me of Los Angeles because it was so laid-back (in topography and mood) as to seem a kind of dreamy suburban Elysium, abundantly supplied with flashy homes and smart-fronted boutiques, stream-lined Jaguars and Mexican cafes, fancy patisseries and even a wood-and-fern vegetarian restaurant."

On Thailand's openness to the West:

"[...] it began to seem no coincidence that Thailand, the most open and most complaisant of all Asian nations, was also the only one that had never been conquered or colonised. The one woman who never gives herself away, D. H. Lawrence once wrote, is the free woman who always gives herself up. Just so with Thailand, a place, quite literally, more ravishing than ravished."

Just when I think Pico can't possibly offer me any more insights - that the published works of his I have not yet ought to be a waste of time, for all the ultra-stimulating infotainment he has packed into The Global Soul and Falling Off The Map - he emerges triumphantly, with every phrase, sentence and paragraph knocking out any assembly of skepticism over his talent.

More than any pretentious academic it is this travel writer that makes me want to read works of the past, such as that of Jan Morris, Somerset Maugham and D. H. Lawrence. Alongside 'Video Night' I am currently reading 'Shantaram' by Gregory David Roberts, quite a captivating ditty with the length of a saga, which I regard as preparation for whenever my future plunge into India comes along, as well as a study of masterful literary technique.

Coming back to Sydney has been a joy... Bondi Beach twinkles seductively, day or night, I'm so thankful for the clean and fresh air I breathe, the way I have been made for this society and it has been made for me. My language barriers are with minority groups, nobody looks up to me because of my race and life chances, I can slip in and out of a multitude of social situations and have more than the vaguest of notions about what's going on around me, the ingredients in the products I'm consuming, which transport can take me where and for what price, etc.

CNN deems Sydney one of its ten Best (Most Livable) Cities in the world (along with Auckland, Honolulu, Vancouver, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna, Zurich and Singapore). The more I come back to this place, the more its attractions stand out. If you also want to check out CNN's list of Most Influential Cities, click here

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Riotous Pondering

A few days I go entered a new post into my old blog, Postmodern Critic... Simultaneously enjoying the ambiance I have created for myself there and keeping the web domain the exclusive playground of yours truly, the following is a Part 2 to that post on misogyny in the media.

Ask your friends: Do know what misogyny means? Many people have seen examples of what they would identify as such, but it's surprising how few are actually familiar with this word. The more aware they are of the challenges facing equality between the genders, the better. My mum didn't know before I talked to her about it last year, but it's amazing how just the addition of a single new word in your vocabulary can allow you to make bold new connections, for the greater good.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the movie I watched last week, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (originally called Men Who Hate Women), was that it introduced to a mass movie audience the kind of female character usually reserved for minor roles in arthouse / 'alternative' films. Lisbeth Salander is both the abused and the abuser, bisexual and has a history of mental disturbance. When men lash out at her, she lashes out in return, through both words and actions. She's part of the film's dark tapestry of firmly embedded social malaise, and perhaps the answer to the question more audiences asking these days: What hasn't been done before?

Perhaps it's a sign that society at large is more comfortable with women wielding power. Perhaps I could even, if I were so inclined, say that Lisbeth is a metaphor for how empowered a women is allowed to be in public consciousness - victimised but enduring, fighting back in a pool of moral ambiguity. Perhaps she will be the beginning of a new trend - especially as David Fincher is set to do an American remake in 2012.

Lisbeth S. is not my kind of feminist - in no way should a woman accept abuse passively and fearfully decline to seek legal justice, and in no way should she be the perpetrator of the very crime that was used against her. I do like the saying 'an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind'... But hopefully most people will start asking questions about female rage, rebellion and poetic justice, some of which will be long overdue.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Sense of Quotability

Should Pope Ratzinger resign over his criminal neglect of child sex abuse?
According to SameSame.com.au's editor:
When asked if the disgraced Pope should quit, prominent atheist author Richard Dawkins responded: "Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears."

Mr Charin of Three J Guesthouse: Buddhists are [more] open [than many other types of people]...

Me: One day, the rainbow flag as a symbol of LGBTI rights will be obsolete: Everyone will have taken it as a representation of their own liberation, from whatever sources are oppressing them. Representations of rainbows will be widespread and proliferating. :o)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Upping the Meta

There was a time I didn't need to move a muscle in my face to express any kind of feeling or thought - I thrived on my ability to convey thoughts which were regarded as extremely complex without so much as twitching a facial feature. I enjoyed appealing to people's sense of enjoyment for learning new things, keeping their curiosity alive for curiosity's sake...

While I am very far from another fleece in the flock at present, I confess I take pains to appear stabilising at intervals. It is my least successful endeavour, and one which makes me unhappy, so I have decided to cut it out. I've decided to cut things up. Refragmentise. Let the old breaks serve as the inspiration for the new, simultaneously writing them in and out of my communication systems.

Up the meta with me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Grittier Side of Phuket's Art Scene

I finally saw an art shop which wasn't full of resplendent colours and attractive curves... This artist was sitting cross-legged on the ground painting black a canvas resembling a grid or a jigsaw puzzle. The painting hung around were quite different in style and subject matter, but all featured dark browns or black, and weren't particularly attractive. Dwelling on the darker side of life, this artist was representing the neglected, greying or derelict parts of Phuket - the dirt on the sidewalks, the grime-streaked historic buildings (no one to give them a fresh lick of paint or gloss) and the heavy wiring going on above street level, lining the roads.

I also saw some scintillating religious art - images of the Buddha's face deep underwater, reclining next to glowing coral, or pretty schools of fishes. What was he trying to say? Buddha can be found everywhere, especially in natural beauty? Buddha nurtures natural beauty, and is present in even the least expected places?

Yesterday I went out with my new Thai friend, Giorgi - we had drinks and a prawn appetiser at a glitzy pierside restaurant where we caught the last fragments of a sunset, then headed over for gnocchi with pesto and tomato sauce at an Italian restaurant. I had my first taste of tamarind gelato - not my favourite, but certainy unique. Then we decided to go to a local karaoke bar on a whim - it was situated within a big classy hotel, and the rooms were gorgeously eclectic in colour. Thailand, as usual, is brimming with vibrant shades, peacefully subversive imagery, crawling with lofty strokes of talented artistic hands.

In the Bangkok Art & CUlture Center there was an installation work comparing Bangkok to Tokyo - Tokyo is certainly cleaner and more wholesome-looking, but it lacks the colour and imagination that makes Bangkok (and Thailand) so riveting. I look forward to coming back again... and next time, I'll fly in through Phuket!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

~Swirls~

Today I meandered down Yaowarat Rd for 'the best noodles in Phuket', and faced the unexpected delight of finding the gallery with the elusive opening hours with doors wide open... it seems that the watercolour turquoises and shimmering greens of Ko Phi Phi island had morphed into lush backdrops where swirls of yellow, pink, orange and purple could arc gracefully over the canvas. The artist told me that these images were a representation of heaven, with the blue and green representing sky and earth. Of course, it's possible to read it as pure abstraction, or semi-abstraction. I just admire the beautiful blends of warm colour as they leap off and complement the vibrant cools...

I am getting to know a lot of the residents of Thalang Rd, and every day I have the opportunity to peek into a new home which has opened its doors and windows, unwittingly (or perhaps purposefully) inviting the outside world to stand to attention and marvel at the maintenance involved in keeping such historic homes.

The curvy windows remind me of capsicums or a fruit in outline... at night, luminous lanterns cast red-toned light on the first/ground storeys of the street, a light source illuminating mostly down and barely up.

A diversity of nuances.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cool Concepts In Hot Climates

Phuket may be a first taste of Thailand for many, but for me it comes after two months of independent travel in some of the country's less affluent northern areas. I had been 'warned' to stay away from it by self-righteous backpackers who claimed that it lacked authenticity due to the overabundance of tourism. I've never been more glad to disregard advice by people I might normally listen to.

One of the first things I search out in a new cultural centre is the art, and I found plenty of it along Yaowarat Rd. It's light, bright and breezy, or sumptuously psychedelic - infused with generous and warm colours, taking on experimental, surreal or cheekily distorted shapes. It seems to have less to do with tradition and more to do with having luxuriated in a spectacular, curvaceous environment with much cultural riches.

The Phuket restaurant owner may regret how much of the island's property is foreign-owned, and long for her childhood days when no beach was almost exclusively reserved for the tourists of the hotels clinging as close to its shores as possible, but to me there is no doubt that Phuket's affluence is directly a result of its openness to non-Thais, and its cosmopolitan soul. As well as the influx of both local and non-local farang, Phuket is also home to Malay, Chinese and Chinese-Thai minorities, which have left their mark on everything from the architecture to the food. At a restaurant near my hostel, I can have Thai, Malaysian or European food - the options appear endless. A pub nearby manages to combine Mexican, Turkish and European food in its bistro menu. At the beautiful cafe I discovered yesterday I can sip traditional Thai milk tea or imported Italian hot chocolate. The charm is in the diversity, the excitement comes from the variety.

This may be the most well-off region I've seen of this beautiful country, and I am enjoying every minute.