Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fragments of Asia

According to Brian, aka Perth's Premier Poet, the artist who painted a portrait of his wife and daughter has blood on his hands. I guess Myanmar/Burma is just that kind of place. I was happy to hear that, while BBC caught him taking pics of Aung Sang Suu Chi (sp?) and played that clip over and over again, he was largely left alone by the authorities.

According to him, the high level of anti-female violence in Korea is (to some extent) due to everyone being overworked. Laing (sp?), the academic I mentioned in my last post, mentioned that private schools are forced to stop offering classes after 10pm by law, which indicates that this had been in practice before. For many Koreans, work seems to begin at 7am. Kwanghee, the Couchsurfer I met in Seoul, told me he even had breakfast at his work! When I was there, I thought everyone looked very serious - perhaps they just don't have enough free time to really loosen up and let go?

Back to Brian, he's planning to live and work in Sumatra, Indonesia, next. He's invited me to visit, but I'm not sure I'm eager to enter a majority Muslim area again. I am thinking about visiting an artist friend in Penang, Malaysia, where it's majority Buddhist, but I'm not even sure about that. I once wanted to visit Iran, but have put those plans off for the forseeable future.

I don't want this to be one of the grumpy posts about how much worse the world is getting, because I genuinely believe in the opposite: the world is generally getter better.

I have 7 hours to go until my flight... it's too early to go to the airport, and too late to do much of anything else, except write. 

Un-harshing my Mellow

'Dude, you're harshing my mellow' was a phrase I learned from living with a Pennsylvanian in California. Bangkok has taught me to loosen my grip on the rigidites I cling onto.

Lady Gaga says that when she gets lonely, she rubs one leg with the opposite foot.
Robyn sings 'When I get lonely / I just want you to call me / I just want you to call me / Cause I'm lonely at the top."

My T-shirt (Kiss me, I'm a postmodernist) is a good way to start conversations with people. I just spoke with a man who spends half his time in South Korea and half his time in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He is an academic, his specialty being the ethics of technology. He confirmed my impression that if I were living in Korea, I would feel like I was wearing a strait-jacket. For the first time in ages, I was asked if I was Irish.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Title-phobic Post

It was bound to happen at some point: Today I can't think of a straight-forward title so I've decided to go meta, hoping that it's straight-forward (and elsuive) in a different manner.

I'm spending my Saturday night in a busy soi (lane) tucked away from the much busier road which intersects the famed MBK supermall and the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. On the other side of the glass, people dodge cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and the odd tiny cat to get to wherever they're going. I recognise a lot of the people in Soi Kasemsan, and they're all a little glum. Life is hectic and relentless, and through some laughter breaks up the tedium, people don't look too happy at the end of the day. This is Bangkok. I would prefer to be in Pai, ot at least Chiang Mai.

On a brighter note, this is a good way to get into 'holiday mode' - plenty of rest, the joys of delicious food in abundance, and a room of my own. It's a ridiculously liberating feeling to have a hotel room all to yourself - you can be who you want to be without worrying what the neighours will think of you in the long run, and while that doesn't mean I'm making a lot of noise, it does change my whole behaviour.

Two days ago I had the kind of massage that might pass for a light form of torture in a different context; a Thai man pinched, poked and slapped my neck, back and head for half an hour, and I have a bruise where he pinched too hard on my arm, quite unlovely. I do, however, feel very fetching, as I bought new eyeglasses, and have been getting appreciative looks from a few of the locals.

I'm developing a strong interest in the anti-psychiatry movement. Associated with Michel Foucault, R. D. Laing and somebody with the last name of Szasz, these series of discourses destabilise the notion of mental instability/illness. I don't want to say too much because I have a lot of reading to do before I feel confident enough to write a treatise on the subject, but shall we say that it's an unpopular movement which resonaets with me.

Over the last month or two I've been doing a considerable amount of reading:

In Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, he takes the concept of a city, turns it on its head, contemplates the highs and lows of all possible scenarios, and explores the evolution or entropy of the city-world over time. Perhaps the most compelling sections of the narrative are the ones when Marco Polo breaks up his story-telling to a non-European king and explores the subjectivity of his oral texts. Perhaps it was because the pace of the book wasn't what I wanted to read, I found that the book lacked passion. A very reflective piece that dwells at lenght on details, and asks you to scoop up the words that lace the lines and inspect each of them as jewels. Perhaps, in my busy modern life, I am out of practice of savouring language so deeply. Perhaps I am even spiritually out of touch. I do remember that Calvino was a misogynist - his representations of women were rarely more complex than a fulfillment of an object for male desire. He's a male writer who writes for men, no matter how gifted he is as a narrator.

In Rana Dasgupta's Tokyo Cancelled, magic realism is the rule and an assembly of stories from around the world (Tokyo, Delhi, Istanbul, Germany, Poland, London, New York City, Paris, Shenzhen and more) makes his tale of plane passangers stranded in an airport strangely memorable. A typical Scorpio, the author repeatedly delves into death, birth, sex and rebirth. There's an element of the disturbing in most stories, but at their best they delighted me and left me in admiration of Rana's imagination.

I'm going to have to leave it here for now... hope you're well! :o)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Two Asides

1. If anyone sent me an email, it may have gone to my spam folder and I may have deleted it... very sorry if so; I usually look through what's in my junk mail folder before clearing it out, but I'm so used to there being nothing of importance that it was only for a split-second after clicking 'delete' that I noticed something which looked like an enquiry. If it was from you, please try again and I'm sure you'll have better luck! ;o)

2. One of my acquaintances expressed concern that my poem 'The Less Lucrative Side Of Asia' was racist. Rereading again, I can see how it may seem to generalise all Asians as having an inferiority complex, but it wasn't meant to be a generalisation: just an observation of a popular trend. I have had close relationships with Asian people (romantically and as close friends) throughout the years and I would like to base myself in at least one Asian location at some point - it's all because Asian people are some of the most empathetic, intelligent, cultured and balanced people I have met. It makes me sad to see racism in Asia targeted at both light-skinned and dark-skinned people, and while the period of time I was evoking in the poem was a time of shock and seeking distance from that kind of mentality, I have since managed to integrate this aspect of Asian life into my experience. That is to say, I have learned to separate myself from the frequently occurring racism while still enjoy the things about the cultures I admire. I do think it's important that I talk about racism in Asia because it's very much taken for granted by way too many people, and it's only because I care about places like China, Thailand, Japan, and many others, that I discuss it. If you have any questions let me know. (The same goes for any post on this site, or anything else I have written on the web.)

On Beauty

Beauty originates from deep within and radiates outwards, finally animating the outer layer.

Facial features which capture the aesthetic imagination at first glimpse are desirable, but even more desirable is the face which is brimming with the emotional and intellectual features we find endearing. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Working Too Hard

A Facebook friend noticed that I was working 'so hard'. This stunned me. It wasn't just that somebody noticed I had been pushing myself a lot, it was that, in order for her to say that, I must have had it written on every inch of my face.

So, I decided to be more playful with my writing. Something I've recently realised was that: I feel I have nothing in particular left to prove. As a very intellectual person who hasn't completed a university degree, in the past I felt a strong need to prove how incredibly gifted I was. I knew I would be judged due to my lack of official qualifications, and was loath to make a single spelling mistake. I wanted every post to have imaginative zeal, to be a genuinely interesting contribution. But, to be honest, I've covered so much ground in my posts, both here and in Postmodern Critic, that I feel I can relax a bit. Anyone who reads a few of my posts will pick up that I have high standards and a passion for mental flexibility which can't necessarily be taught in the classroom. I'm not a memorable writer despite dropping out of uni, but because of it. I design my own education.

Yesterday, I learnt a character or two of Mandarin Chinese. The character represented by the phoneme 'wén' means writing, language or culture. This act I indulged in, of singling out a specific character from many other more ordinary ones (I could have learnt characters relating to the time, or food), makes me feel proud and happy to be learning Mandarin in my own, slow, but deliberate way. I enjoy the challenge of doing things my own way, not being forced to learn something that other people perceive as relevant to me.

Interestingly, I signed up for a Mandarin course in UNSW one year - and was scared away by the tonal aspects of the language. I created a big mental block for myself that I just couldn't escape, because there was no part of Mandarin that was not tonal. I gave up on learning the language entirely after a week. It was only after meeting a Taiwanese guy online and having him pay special attention to me and compliment me so thoroughly on my abilities that I shed my fears. I came around: in my own time. I now feel like learning Mandarin is as straight-forward as learning any language, and view it as an exciting challenge. Okay, it's still a bit intimidating, but I'm not nearly as intimidated as I used to be, and just making the small steps I have made so far has had a huge impact on me: I feel happier. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Perpetual Transformation

In an interview with Stephen Fry to promote her album, Lady Gaga brought attention to a new (perhaps more interesting) dimension of the 'Born This Way' concept than had popularly been consumed (biological determinism, validating non-heterosexual identity):

"[...] the album is about rebirth in every sense. It's about being reborn again and again until you find the identity inside yourself that defines you best for who you are and that makes you most feel like a champion of life."

Even if you want to stay exactly the way you are in the present in the next ten minutes, it's impossible: Human beings are a process, not a product - ever reinventing themselves, change is the very thing that defines us. Everything from your hair and nails constantly growing to your body adjusting to the climate, your diet, the soap you use, the effect of different fabrics produced on your skin - we fuse tension and ease, conflict and harmony, expressions of the raw mingle with the refined, we make a hullaballoo in our heads and intersperse it with silence (coming up with a new recipe for inner motivation). Life is as simple or chaotic as I want it to be - frequently I am on overload because that seems desirable.

*

I've been wondering whether to watch the Swedish movie 'Let the right one in' - reviews of it have been almost unanimously glowing, but my fertile imagination tends to latch onto the horrific and lets it affect me. Even reading reviews of the film spooked me! I don't want the fear inside me to grow. On the other hand, I love vampire movies. Out of all the imaginary devilish creatures I've so far encountered, the vampire seems the most interesting. Perhaps because there is an element of seduction involved. Well then, I should avoid this movie, because the vampire in question is supposed to be about 12 years old. Then again, there seems to be a tentative exploration of pre-teen sexuality as the point. Maybe I should just prepare for an injection of quality horror and appreciate whatever is masterful about it. Hmmm...

Black Female Voices

Naomi Campbell: on being compared to a piece of chocolate candy. (I love how she puts forward a suggestion to prevent this sort of thing happening again: greater diversity within the company!)

Rihanna in Man Down: a thought-provoking representation of one female's murderous retaliation in the aftermath of being raped. (The video is analysed by a female activist here.)

The trailer for Dark Girls, the documentary. Exposing the depth of the racism that abounds when it comes to the darker shades of brown skin. I look forward to seeing this.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pre-travel Questions

In 10 days I'll be on a flight to Bangkok... here are some of the questions floating through my head:

Is it better to linger in the city for 5 days, or catch a bus out of town for a few days so as to see someplace new (like the Thai tourist magnet, Cha-am)?

I have seven days in Belgium, and 4 possible places to see. How to divide my time?
Option a) 3 days Brussels, 2 days Bruges, 2 days Ghent OR Antwerp
Option b) 2 days Brussels, 2 days Bruges, 2 days Antwerp, 1 day Ghent

I have 5 days in Switzerland - do I have enough time to hop over to Geneva from Zurich, or should I concentrate on seeing some of the natural beauty closer by?

I have 5 days in Hong Kong - do I stay on Lantau island the entire time, or transfer to Hong Kong Island/Kowloon and see parts of the place I haven't seen before, or escape to Macau?