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Alchemy

As I learn this language, this other language, some things:

1) This is so much alchemy.

We first look to the aether. This same touch of the lips, this same flutter of the throat – the wisps of every forgotten tongue gather and collapse with each syllable we breathe, each one spoken a hundred thousand times before.

From these we draw out the elements.  The mind scoops these sounds from the air, condenses them, and finally distills them into slender letters that are distinct, unique, pure.

But these are still soft, unstable. So they react. Some do so predictably, forming dull, earthy metals, and some others, from such mundanity suddenly sublime into barely visible smoke, filling the nostrils. They start to bear weight, smells, colour; meaning. Still, that is not enough, and we transmute them, alloy them, forcing them to become still harder, brighter, stronger, until the ideograms our hands and minds create no longer resemble anything from an earthen womb, but in themselves reflect purpose, utility, will.

Even now, the time of our labour has yet to pass. We pick up the tools of the miniaturist’s craft, and by the flickering candle fleck a delicate and gyrating filigree across the gleaming surface of our alchemical labour.  An onlooker would see that we are making a jewelry box; one so flawless that it will in itself be fit to be unearthed, polished, cut. We set translucent stones from the furthest corners of the deserts, affix our bone-glue, and finally, with a brush, apply pigments ground from snail and ochre. Tendril by tendril, we infuse the box with our intent, snatching sight from our failing eyes and making it almost-flesh; until finally, ornamented, varnished, laden, the box clasps perfectly shut, and we breathe out.

And by the time the cockerel breaks the new day, these empyreal, imperial treasures have been taken from our workshops, bound to be proffered before some decadent throne. Some will be kept, unopened, resting next to ever more opulent creations beneath high ceilinged lonely vaults; some will be used, will conceal heirlooms, frame gems, bear witness to secrets both profound and depraved; but most, as if plundered by some Hunnic king, will be melted back into trinkets, and like the Ouroboros in his lair, patiently await the time when the cycle of alchemy comes to bear again.

Boredom at work may sometimes lead to necropostings.

Casual experiment: Comment something weird once you see this.

A Trend

Should it worry me that the most clicked search term linking to this site is “Difference between scallops and mussels” ?

You know who you are, mollusk man.

Dixie

I went to Disneyworld when I was ten, and I’ve avoided it ever since. I wasn’t tragically abused by Minnie Mouse or anything; really, I think it was the closest thing to magic I’d seen. I remember the Epcot globe perched above its huge dark lake, firework smoke lingering in the air, and all these little countries strewn across the water’s edge waiting to be explored, each with its own special rides and restaurants and passport stamps to collect. I couldn’t wait to go to every one. I remember sitting on a train – I don’t think it was even a ride, it was the monorail between the resorts -  and just sitting there for hours because I wanted to see all the dreamt up worlds: Pirates, The Wild West, Pixie, Futuristic – and in retrospect there was even one that looked suspiciously like a pirated Mandarin Oriental.

But I didn’t think of that then. I’m grateful for that. Truth is, I’ve avoided Disneyworld because I’m afraid that when I retrace my steps I’ll realise that the whole thing’s a sham. That these memories aren’t fluttering in the glow of real sunlight but around some shady, flickering artificial tube. That, like in a Stephen Chow film, the beautiful silhouette of a girl will turn around to reveal an awful old man digging his nose.

That horrible image has caught up with me. I came across this song the other day, Dixie, only to realise that it was the tune I’d been humming in my head all these years. I never knew the lyrics, but it was the theme music of the Disney resort I stayed in so long ago, Dixie Landings, and to me it’s stood for everything wonderful and sacrosanct about childhood marvel.

I know now that also it’s the Confederate battle song. It’s probably what the Klan sings before breakfast  – it’s performed by a blackface actor, comically exaggerates black slang, and talks  about a guy pining for his fantastic life as a cotton slave. Look away, look away, dixieland is about right – and Huck Finn says it better, so I won’t.

I guess all this matters to me because I think I’m starting to turn into an asian Eeyore.  It’s strange, but I can’t remember anything this year that has, to borrow an image from a much better writer, “summoned that magic ‘wow’ out of a bottomless top hat of skepticism and irony”. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a cynic, or a stoic, or anything else that requires time living in a barrel. I still like clean laundry. But I’m honest enough with myself to know that I’m probably staring in the face of about forty years of writing futile things, poring over numbing spreadsheets, and enduring ridiculous corporate diagram after corporate diagram. Most of us are. And that is why, dear real-life, if I cannot further pimp out my purple A380, if I cannot have my ideals, then I would at least like to keep my sense of wonder.

If this is what turning twenty means, then I’m off to see the wizard!

Perth

I returned from Perth more than a week ago. It was my first attempt at a free and easy holiday, and consequently, it felt more rewarding and substantial than previous tour package holidays, because I actually went to places that interested me. Spending 5 days in the same city also allowed me to get a more complete picture of how Perth lived and breathed. It was not merely a gloss over an exotic locale, but an attempt to pierce beyond the veil of a different culture to experience its idiosyncracies and aspects.

I left on saturday morning, just after midnight. T3 for those of you who may not have seen it before.

Skipping the flight, which proceeded entirely in darkness. we come to the scene outside the hotel.

Before checking in, a sojourn into Perth’s famed King’s Park.

More macro shots of the diverse array of flowers there.

Path winding down to exit on freeway. So steep that climbing up evoked bad memories of the latter 4 kilometres of a 16 km fast march.

More macro flowers.

The Swan Bells at the harbour. Didn’t go in; expensive tourist trap. Its architectural definitiveness can be best appreciated from the exterior.

Generic evening view of skyline on the first day.

So we come to the second day, where we went on an expedition to the city’s port town, Freemantle, a wonderful tourist destination in its own right. Freemantle train station.

Lunch was served here, at Cicerello’s, a famous seafood restaurant.

Battered dory fillet, french fries, side serving of fried scallop and mussel, squid rings.

After-lunch walk around town:

View from high of the Freemantle beach:

Freemantle Maritime Museum. A curvaceous architectural curiosity.

This is me doing a Quantum of Solace thing.

We went back to Perth, eventually…

Artsy shot of the Palace Hotel against the BankWest Tower.

Home in Perth. Surprisingly comfortable, and excellent service.

The next day sees us taking a tour of the Swan Valley.

We were rather out of place; the remainder of the patronage consisted of middle aged American and Australian couples.

Anyway, Swan Valley is home to WA’s best vineyards and winemakers.

I knew the whole affair was overhyped!

Fruit.

Suffice to say the imbibing of alcohol took place, in extreme moderation, whereupon we returned to Perth to have dinner at some Korean joint. Ironic.

The next day, breakfast was had at a quaint cafe called Tiger, Tiger in some hidden alleyway. Its an open air concept, except sandwiched in an alleyway. Nice ambient lighting and atmosphere.

Today’s expedition was made to Rockingham, at the receptionist’s recommendation. Rockingham is a small seaside town not unlike Freemantle, except smaller and more villagey.

Another flower.

At this point some clarification is in order. We decided that it was necessary to visit Rockingham’s main tourist destination, the aptly named Penguin Island. We then proceeded to trek through the length and breadth of the entire town to get to the jetty, whereupon we missed the boat. But hey, there’s always another boat.

The beach:

The suburbs:

The lake:

Ducks:

Penguin Island (at last) with Penguins.

After walking through to the other side of the island, we have reached the end of the world. This is the Indian Ocean.

At this point my camera battery ran out, so here’s tomorrow. Its our last day. Notice the abrupt change in weather.

We went to a factory outlet and did random grocery shopping at Woolworth’s at Subiaco, but that isn’t too interesting.

Finally, airport:

And plane. Here’s me.

And that is the end of it.

Well, not precisely…

Some thoughts. First, WA seems an incongruously cosmopolitian place; half the residents are naturalized Australians with brown, yellow or blue skin. I saw Singaporeans, Chinese nationals, Indonesians, Japanese, Koreans (even a shop selling Korean DVDs and Korean instant noodles run by Koreans) at every corner, manning stores, walking to office, taking their white girlfriends out on a trainride, etc. Its a refreshing feeling to know that for once, you might not be immediately construed as a foreigner in a foreign land. A good feeling if you want to try blending in.

Second of all, the effusive, natural and spontaneous friendliness. Shopkeepers teaching us the basics of didgeridoo, non-intrusive attendants smiling at us when we enter the stores, helpful (if odd) passersby, and general indicators of a more open and friendly society than ours. Its kind of addictive, in a way. Its just a Western cultural foible.

I think I’ll post the entire album (400+ pix) up somewhere in the next few days.

***

Hooplah

Imagine, say, the Oval Office, with functionaries, aides, public service officials and other assorted personalities. Imagine the President of the USA, standing in the midst of all those people. Or perhaps more prosaically, based on the situation, imagine the Parliament House overlooking the dense, modernist skyscrapers of Singapore. How does your mind process such a scene? Mine is incapable of doing so without adding at least a sheen of cinematic graininess. The scene is literally like a movie. Actions, words are caught in the crystalline, fragile web of otherness, of fictive reality a few degrees removed from my own. A kind of solipsism of the mundane. When I think of President Bush, for example, I think of an actor who has so effectively inhabited his role that he has become Bush. He is Bush, and always has been, from childhood. This I can accept, viscerally, but only when it is concomitant to the idea that Bush is nothing more than a fictive portrait, that once my attention wanders away from my mind’s portrait of the scene, the President Bush will disappear, to be replaced with an idea and a person who inhabits that idea, the actor-Bush who is capable of being mundane and prosaic in a way that Bush-the-idea, the President of the United States, cannot. More directly put, I find it somehow difficult to accept, on a gut level, the idea that President Bush reads the paper in the toilet, or chokes on pretzels while watching a football game, or flashed le fingre at the cameras before a press conference. The events that lie outside of my immediate perception, especially those events with great import on the state of Humanity as a whole, are concealed underneath a veil of other-reality. The mind’s cinematic grain, so to speak. I suppose it is this very effect that restricts people from true communion with each other, across space and time. One has to experience something to fully appreciate it, on the gut level.

To wit, coming back to the metaphor of the cinematic grain, what do movies like the upcoming W (President Bush’s biopic) or perhaps Tropic Thunder, or Saving Private Ryan, with its graphic, no-holds-barred depiction of the gore and death of warfare, mean to us? To me, it is precisely such fictive portraits that reinforce the intangible veil between my reality and the reality of the other. It’s called the fourth wall, which is never to be spoken of by the actors themselves, but nevertheless exists in the mind of the viewer, who abandons his sense of incredulity in favour of the fictive experience but enthuses, ironically, of the fourth wall’s very intangibility after the said experience, thus acknowledging its reality even more. Movies, in other words, reinforce the sense of dislocation between the viewer and the fictive subject matter. By watching a movie like W, for example, the viewer obtains an intellectual and artistic understanding of the reality behind the fictive portrait. Nevertheless, the impression of the cinematic grain, of the fourth wall’s sequestering of the viewer and the viewee, becomes even stronger. Viscerally, the viewer begins to see the events of the world outside his own as being like movies. Being fictive portraits, idealized portraits that somehow proscribe the very prosaic and mundane facts of life. For life cannot be captured wholly without losing some of its experiential integrity. The very fact that life is staged in movies leads to the creation of that fourth wall, which, in any case, exists because of the artificiality of the scene. That the scene is not spontaneous in any meaningful way (barring the adlibs that have gone on to become great quotes from movies: cf Heere’s Johnny!). Meaninglessness, or chaos, is either excised from the portrait or made to carry extraneous significance. Thus is the meaningless mundane transformed to significance in a movie, and by that very token, loses its mundane aspect, thereby creating, once again, the impression of the ever-important cinematic grain.

In conclusion, I have droned on about two things: one, the dislocation between a viewer’s reality and the reality of things he does not see, called the cinematic grain effect; as well as the propensity of an artistic format, of a fictive representation of reality, to reinforce that dislocation by adapting the world into a format that the viewer can accept viscerally, in turn informing the viewer (falsely) of the very artificiality of the reality that the fictive format was based on, giving him the impression of otherworldliness. The former is already a fixture of most human imagination, movies only reinforce it; but I am in no way dissing art. There is nothing wrong with viewing life as a movie, because, despite everything, it is one. It is a format in which the roles of the actor and the character are reversed. And insofar as the human imagination lacks the capacity to achieve a visceral understanding of the things it does not see, it can partially make up for that lack by informing itself intellectually, on a conscious level. Why else does one read the news, if all the world is not a stage in which the farthest end lies so far beyond the horizon that the viewer cannot see it?

***

In other news, Spore!!!!!!111One

Libretto of a Tragedy

Something oddballsy that I came up with during a night’s onset of delirium. It was originally going to be longer, but I decided against it, lest you all think I am insane.

Libretto of a Tragedy

Pvt. Lee Hirebus walks down the stairs.

But at least it will be fun
Marchin’ under the sun
Livin’ large with the bud and the gun
The life of a ladies’s dream…

It’s like livin’ on a silver screen…
It’s like nothing I ever seen…

The chorus:

Like a silver screen, a silver screen he says…
Don’t know a mule’s bleat from a horse’s bray…
You think the military
Will be all fun and games
You think that fighting furious
Is like kissing a dame
Well son I gotta tell you
It ain’t flowers and fame
Wearing that goshdarned green beret!

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