Thursday, September 03, 2009

Damaged and Damaging


I was a college student when I inadvertently discovered "Damage" on British TV, a steamy romantic drama featuring a forbidden illicit affair between Stephen and Anna. Jeremy Irons plays Stephen, a self-controlled, successful, prim and proper English gentleman holding respectably high ministerial position in the cabinet. Juliette Binoche plays Anna, a damaging femme fatale who is subsequently engaged to Jeremy's son while initiating and pursuing her clandestine trysts with Jeremy.

(Interestingly, Deuteronomy 22:30 provides that "a man is not to marry his father's wife; he must not dishonour his father's bed." What about a father taking his son's fiancee? Anyway, there are a lot of similar stories in real life. During the Tang Dynasty of ancient China, there was young Empress Wu Zetian who was previously a concubine to Emperor Taizong and upon his death, a concubine to his successor Emperor Gaozong. In modern times, there is a suspicious case between Carla Bruni and the Enthovens. Not to mention certain cultures that approve such relationships, and generations of ordinary women in willing pursuit of such complication, if not the thrill.)

The accidental fall of her fiance from top to the ground floor, in the state of excruciating pain and shock witnessing the intense love-making between his dad and Anna, left an inexplicable impact on me ever since. It still stirs my emotions re-watching it after almost 10 years.

What strikes me most is the psychological state of Anna: what is in her mind? What is she up for? Love, lust, atonement or vindication?

Anna, albeit a pleasant looking lady, does not on first glance appear to meet a standard expectation of any typical seductress. Not really hot, sexy and voluptuous - a woman type deemed popular among most men; not the sweet and "kawai" (cutey in Japanese) which is generally well-liked among the Asian men. She is indeed an exquisite cold beauty, looking sullen and melancholic at most times. She always appears in deep thought, as if she is disturbed by a painfully inexplicable past. Perhaps this is the most mysterious and alluring type (very dangerous too) of a femme fatale. Being unpredictably secretive, she is also extremely selfish and egocentric in search for her next target with no mercy whatsoever. What she craves for is basically the spur moment of fanatic lust and passion. "Empathy" and "compassion" have no presence in her dictionary.

"Who cares about tomorrow; who cares about commitment. It has to be me; it has to be my pleasure only..."

At the end of the film, she just evicts her responsibility of her fiance's death altogether. She flees the "crime" scene going back to her former lover (who has possibly divorced his wife for her). Leaving behind a broken man who has lost everything: a seemingly happy family, a rising career, good reputation and his one and only son, gazing obsessively on a photo of her cold beauty...

How many lives has Anna damaged throughout her life till the end of the movie? Her own brother who commits suicide in desperation of his incestuous love, Stephen and his family (his wife, son, daughter and father-in-law) and her former lover and his family. At least 8 of them excluding the unknowns. Undoubtedly a real femme fatale.

I am not trying to pass any moral judgement on a character like Anna. Just wondering how would she not lose sleep over a sense of guilt for hurting so many souls? Does she believe in "karma"?

On a separate note, some critics liken the film to another classic erotic film "Last Tango in Paris". In my humble opinion, "Damage" probably better portrays the psychology of each character. At least I don't feel disturbed wondering why a sweet-looking babe would totally submit herself to an ugly old man who has nothing but a disposition for violence and perversion (my blog post on the above shall come later).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Some Thoughts on The Notebook


After years of waiting, I finally got to watch one of the most popular tear-jerks among the ladies (probably guys too, though most guys I know seem to shun the movie): The Notebook. It is based on a novel written by Nicholas Sparks, who was inspired by the true love story of his wife's grandparents.

Instead of just tears welling, I cried my heart all out.

Then I came across this article online. The author claims that the story is unrealistic, unfair to the guys, and corrupting the girls to cheat on their steady partners.

Does romantic drama really ruin our love lives? Is The Notebook a really bad example that over-emphasises the passion of love? Is it right to leave a good and steady partner for the pursuit of "true love"? But what is "true love" in the first place?

Though I cried my eyeballs for the movie, somehow I have to agree with the said article. In fact, the real tear-jerking scenes to me are: firstly on the part of Lon's love and acceptance over Allie's affair; secondly on the scene when elderly Allie regains her memory with the help of elderly Noah; and finally, on the scene where they rest in peace hand in hand (which is similar to a scene of an old and unknown couple in Titanic).

Yes, the love between Noah and Allie is probably great and romantic, but they only prove themselves in the end after going through all ups and downs together. All they have for the summer is not real love but mere limerence, which usually does not last very long when the reality kicks in. According to Wikipedia, limerence is "an involuntary cognitive and emotional state of intense romantic desire for another person...". The term is also used to describe "the ultimate, near-obsessional from of romantic love". What does two teenagers know about the meaning of true love? In fact they are not even very compatible to start with. They often fight for their differences, verbally and physically. While Noah is just a simple and soft-spoken country boy, feisty Allie comes from a well-to-do family and she is on her way for top education. That is so vividly depicted during their very first unsuccessful attempt for intimacy. Allie attempts to romanticise the sensational feeling with words but Noah is never so articulate.

OK, 7 years have passed. Does time does not mend a broken heart? The story goes on to say that Allie is in love again with Lon. Lon is almost a perfect guy every girl will dream of. He is smart, handsome and charming. Not a bum but a lawyer who is supposed to inherit his family' wealth one day. The best part is, he is loving and loyal to Allie too. He is willing to forgive and forget about how Allie cheats on him.

Now it comes the hardest decision ever, which guy would you ultimately choose given similar situation and based on all available information, barring all future unforeseeable changes of characters or circumstances?

Frankly speaking, if I were Allie, I would go for Lon. But then again, there is nothing right or wrong. I am just making a calculated decision.

Experience has it very clear not only for me, but many other girls too. Time not only mends a broken heart, it changes personalities and preferences too. You may not have the same passion for the same person. One may not appreciate a computer geek at her young age but she may end up loving and marrying one ultimately.

Allie's mother may be seen as "evil" (for some hopelessly romantic girls, perhaps) but it is all out of motherly love and protection for Allie. One of neighbours actually did something similar to separate her son and a "cougar" (many years older). The "cougar" was alleged to be not only seducing the son but eyeing his family wealth, with the aid of black magic. The mother had to send her son many thousand miles away from home for years. But now, I heard the son is happily married with another girl.

I think Allie has gambled her life off on the option that may offer the least probability of winning. Think about it. Yes, Noah is a gifted builder but he has no identifiable source of income. He seems to be easy to take on any woman available though he has no love for her.

Allie is a lucky girl. Everybody in the show loves Allie. It is great that Noah loves her enough to accept her spoiled character and work hard for the family. If Noah continued to be a bum or work in the factory, if they continued to fight due to any compatibilities, their relationship might be doomed. Just like any other financially-strained families. After the limerence inevitably dies off, all that is left in a marriage is bonding, relationship and responsibilities. Those elements require insurmontable effort, patience, and compromise to be built up, not mere limerence or hot sex for the moment. True love emerges at challenging times. That a couple stays together through all thick and thin.

So in the end, Allie and Noah got my eyes moist again.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Being Malaysian

I am a Malaysian by nationality, a Chinese by ethnicity. I belong to the 4th generation of Malaysian Chinese. I speak Hakka at home; I speak Cantonese and English to my mates; I speak Malay in court; I speak English at work.

At home, I have been raised with Chinese traditions. I celebrate Chinese New Year, Tomb Sweeping Festival, Mid Autumn Festival and even the “Dong Zhi (冬至)”, the day that signifies the arrival of winter, although Malaysia is a tropical country.

In faith, I am a Christian. I read the bible in English. I go for Sunday services, and I appreciate God’s messages that help to resolve various moral or existential issues in life.

At work, I am a corporate lawyer trained in the United Kingdom. I used to handle litigation matters in court in Malay language. After quitting litigation, I focused on corporate practice which required me to draft almost everything in English. Occasionally I had to assist my clients in drafting official letters in Malay.

Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Malaysian food is unique its own way, a harmonious fusion of multi-racial influences. I have “nasi lemak” (coconut rice) and “Nescafe tarik” (Malaysian-style coffee) in the morning; “char kway teow” (fried noodles) and Chinese tea for lunch; and roti canai (Indian-style pita bread) and teh tarik (Indian-style milk tea) for dinner.

When it comes to friendships, I am colour blind. I acknowledge our differences that make us special. Sometimes we laugh about the Malay’s laziness, the Chinese’s money face, and the Indian’s mouth. We also appreciate the Malay for being kind and thoughtful, the Chinese for working hard and the Indian for upholding justice. I have close friends from all races and religions. They all have helped me through all ups and downs of my life.

Malaysians, whatever ethnic groups we come from, are potentially the most adaptable people to take the title of “global citizens”. Way before the concept of globalization came into play. We speak multiple languages. We are exposed to a good diversity of cultures and background. We have learned to respect our racial differences and live in harmony, while ethnic cleansing takes place in other parts of the world. We are supposed to be special.

Our founding fathers were far-sighted to foresee this identity that makes us unique and united as a nation. Once upon a time, we even had a well-drafted constitution that upheld that vision - one nation, one Malaysian.

Unfortunately, it is all destroyed by one agenda within one decade.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

10 Bizarre Ways of City Life in Shanghai

Shanghai is a happening and well-developed metropolitan, and it is no exaggeration to name it "Paris of the East". I was amazed by its broad avenues and magnificent skyscrapers when I first arrived here. After living here for some time, I gradually acquire a unique living experience of Shanghai (and I am still enjoying it). I have been to many major cities in the world. None offers such tremendous degree of "cultural shock" more than Shanghai, despite the fact that I belong to the Chinese descent. Let's see how "civilized" are the people here beyond the facade of a glittering skyline:-


You will be amazed by the ubiquitous presence of phlegm ("fresh" or "dried-up" - OK, I know it is gross!) in Shanghai, on the ground, from the mouth. It is a "signature" habit of the nation that unfortunately seems to define the Chinese race. No wonder spit pot (痰罐) is always a top essential household item in China. If they are out of home, everywhere outdoor can be their "spitting ground". One of the “survival skills” I have acquired is to stay alert and listen up: when you hear a gargling sound of “arghhhhhhh”, just divert and hop off the street! It is disgusting enough if it stains your pants, but it becomes disastrous if you catch the virus and thereafter suffer from THE PUSH and rush in a local hospital!


Shanghai is notably one of the most populous cities in the world. The crowd is particularly humongous during the rush hours in the subway (METRO) stations. You are literally and helplessly pushed to the corner. The trains are always full and you are cramped as one of the poor sardines traveling to work everyday. I was once so amused to see a young, pretty and well-dressed lady rushing and pushing herself (with incredibly high agility) into the train seconds before the door was shut; the train left the station with her face all squeezed and distorted on the glass window! It is also not uncommon to see some METRO station staffs help pushing more people into a packed train. That somehow reminds me of how live chickens are transported from the farm to the city in a truck! Hence the people do not seem to understand the concepts of privacy and space. Even if there is space, they simply push you around whenever they walk pass you. Now I wonder whether they recognize the criminal concept of assault and sexual harassment...


The local drivers do not buy the concept of “pedestrian first”. They don’t care whether there are pedestrians crossing the road. They will honk all the way to get you off their way. All vehicles honk all day long, starting from 7am till 8pm. As my apartment is located near Pudong Avenue (浦东大道) and the Huangpu River (黄浦江), they wake me up on time to work without an alarm clock. They play their own traffic rules, by all means possible.


If you wish to frequent a popular place, this is what I would advise you: (i) be patient, if you have plenty of time and choose to be a gentleman; or (ii) be aggressive, if you are in a rush and don't mind to be a barbarian! In a restaurant, either there is a long queue or the food is served late. As a gentleman, you can prompt the waiters many times to get what you want but you just have to wait. Otherwise, just do up a scene of barbarian acts and they will attend to you immediately. In a local hospital, you need to be alert in the queue or someone will jump the queue and take away your long- waiting position. Is the huge population of Shanghai attributable to its?


For first-timer in Shanghai, you may wonder why people seems to enjoy quarreling in the public. Well, that is not quite true. When the local people converse in Shanghai dialect (上海话), somehow they phonically sounds like they are fighting! They are loud, quick and assertive, especially the senior ladies. My observations of their speech mannerism are: the young babes are sulky and imperious; the middle-aged women are proud and defensive; the senior "aunties" (a Malaysian reference of older ladies) are loud, pushy and domineering! This observation is affirmed by some of my local Chinese male friends here.


A lot of the employees you meet in the retail stores or restaurants are rude, defensive and opinionated. The rude - they ignore you when you ask for services; they treat you like a moron when you ask for direction in Mandarin (and look Chinese - they probably look down on country pumpkins who do not speak Shanghainese!) The defensive - when you complain about bad customer service, they will immediately cover their ass with every excuse under the sun. The opinionated - if they notice that you are holding on to a S-sized shirt, they may grab it away and tell you that you cannot fit (I know my body better)! This is, based on what I heard from the local, "by default" the way they behave unless the management has specifically trained them to please the customers.


Beware of the con men! They are just too many smart, cunning and unscrupulous people here who will strive to get every penny out of your pocket. The not-so-smart ones are the pickpockets, usually found in the crowded METRO stations. The professional con men come out with ingenious schemes to trap and entice you to part with your money voluntarily; or they will overwhelm you with all information that clouts your judgment. I was almost trapped here once. My strategy? Hear no evil see no evil. Just say no to everything, or pretend to speak no Mandarin.


There is one common trait of all China Towns (唐人街)in the world - they all smell "Char Siew" (叉烧 - roast pork, a Cantonese delicacy) to me! Similar aroma (or stench, depending on whether you like it or not) permeates and pass through almost everywhere in Shanghai. My sensitive nose sometimes detects it from the people in the train or elevator too! If you do not fancy the smell, you may consider seeking your sanctuary in pubs or cafes where the fragrance of alcohol or coffee dominating. Shanghai does not offer only Char Siew but Chinese food of all streams. I wonder which Chinese favourite ingredient producing the aroma. Is that the pork?


This is everywhere in China, not only in Shanghai. Even Celine Dion is a fan of fake luxury goods. Even if they don't make counterfeits, they use a logo or trademark which is substantially similar to any well-known international brand. In the hope of lucrative profits by confusing the public (but I thought Shanghai people are shrewd?!) and relating themselves to the big brands perhaps? Passing-off does not seem to be a legal concept that bothers the businessmen here. Even Li Ning (李宁), a Olympian-gymnast-turn-businessman copies the "swoosh" of Nike to sell his sports garments!


It is interesting to read harsh, critical, and judgmental comments in the local media that demonize the West. For historical events, they typically blame the West for cheating the Chinese by taking possession of the Bund (外滩) in the late 19th century. In terms of current affairs, they always claim that the West has evil agenda to jeopardize the Chinese in many ways. Paradoxically, the people here revere the West a great deal! If it is bad enough in Kuala Lumpur, it is worse in Shanghai. My landlady brags about her kids working for American companies; some of my local colleagues show off their foreign branded goods (probably made in China); some local girls fight to date the white men. According to my Shanghainese friend, if you wish to get VIP customer services, you must speak to the sales person in English!

I will share each of the above items separately in the future. Having said all the above, I must also praise the Shanghai people for acknowledging their problems; and they are now working very hard to improve everything about the city in preparation for EXPO 2010. Certainly there are great things about Shanghai too. Just stay tune ya!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

So Close ("Enchanted" Movie Soundtrack)

You're in my arms
And all the world is calm
The music playing on for only two
So close together
And when I'm with you
So close to feeling alive

A life goes by
Romantic dreams must die
So I bid mine goodbye and never knew
So close was waiting, waiting here with you
And now forever I know
All that I wanted to hold you
So close

So close to reaching that famous happy end
Almost believing this was not pretend
Now you're beside me and look how far we've come
So far we are so close

How could I face the faceless days
If I should lose you now?
We're so close
To reaching that famous happy end
Almost believing this was not pretend
Let's go on dreaming for we know we are
So close So close
And still so far