Category Archives: Love

Angels and Demons

angels_and_demons

Finished the book, which has given me mixed feelings.

First, I miss Rome. Just like Da Vinci Code made me miss Paris (I read the book shortly after a trip there). Reading about the famous sights – St Peter’s Basilica, Piazza Barberini, Piazza Navona, Castel Sant’Angelo – made me very nostalgic. I adore the city, so enriched in history and heritage: wish I could be there now.

Second, the twist in the end was ludicrous (the Pope was killed by his own son born of IVF!) – as melodramatic as Korean soap operas. When I read this part on the MTR, I couldn’t help but say aloud, “Come on!" It was utterly unnecessary and ridiculous.

Third, Dan Brown could weave a complex plot, but his writing could be so damn patronising. At times he seemed worried that his readership might have learning difficulties.

Fourth, the plot was vaguely believable and even riveting in the middle part, but with the red herrings such unlikely villains, the mastermind behind the plot was pretty obvious rather early on. An insider with access to the Pope – it was kind of a no-brainer (perhaps my suspicion of all overtly religious people also helped). Maybe the author intended to boost his readers’ ego by making this detective game rather easy.

Fifth, I was rather disturbed by the whole idea of fabricating an apparent “act of God" in order to restore hope and faith. The author almost went as far as to condone it: the hero intentionally kept mum about the truth, that it was all a lie, that several people were murdered and science villainised for the sake of reaffirming the Christian faith. It was disgusting.

And finally, the borderline pornographic denouement was a rubbish way to wrap the novel. Granted, the book was more entertaining than The Da Vinci Code (even though it predates the latter)…

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受保護的文章:Diary of a Naïve Postdoc

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Filed under Hate, Hong Kong, Love, Miscellaneous musings, Science

FF

FF: the often-used button on a VCR or DVD player remote control. “Fast forward". It describes perfectly the feeling of the past three months (during which I have not written anything here), even though it also felt like a lot has happened during these three months. A lot of that time was spent on preparing for my trip in June – I went to Morocco, organised a hen do, travelled around in Switzerland, stopped over in Cambridge, acted as a bridesmaid at the wedding of my dear, dear friend Y, and caught up with friends who have kindly decided not to disown me despite my inability to write or call or communicate by any means with them for a year. A very eventful trip, with many moments of joy, hilarity and surprise: so eventful that I felt like having another holiday afterwards to recover from the fatigue. That said, I will treasure the plenty of pleasant memories of this trip, and hope that I can do the same again next year…

Of course, FF also stands for Fantastic Four, of which I’ll talk more in a later post…

So let’s do some FF-ing over the pre-trip life I had, blogging Twitter-style:

  • Loved “Departures" (おくりびと): the story, the music, the message.

okuribito

  • 余光中 gave an enlightening seminar at PolyU: glad I got tickets (one of the few perks of working at a university); he shared some sagely insight into the art of translation!
  • 天下無双: a pleasing and rather touching dance/drama hybrid about friendship…loved it.

tianxiawushuang

  • 我們的華星時代: a wasteful squandering of the talents involved, with a script that had no idea where it was going. It was all rather promising before the plot crash-landed.
  • at17 “Colours Live": moved by their passion for what they do, and the “positive energy" that radiates from their music. Sandy Lam was a great surprise guest!

at17colours

  • 丑年X樣: a brave play presented by 樹寧。現在式單位, featuring the really rather weird 劉以達. Some serious themes in there, if just a tad bizarre.
  • Kay Tse’s “Yelling" concert: I fell in love with her voice…and Eason made the night complete.

P1010858

  • Arcadia: another gem by Stoppard, performed well if slightly amateurishly. The script is brilliant, though perhaps still a bit short of the genius that is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
  • HK Art Fair: cool show, with some really big names…many intriguing pieces (more later)

P1010951

  • Mon Oncle: my first encounter with the cinematic work of Jacques Tati; playful and whimsical – will see more!

mon oncle

  • Le French May Festival 2009. 橫衝直撞偷錯情 (adaptation of French farce La Puce a l’oreille, by Georges Feydeau), performed by the HK Repertory Theatre, was performed with perfect comic timing: a real gem! Folk N Blues Moriarty: interesting if eccentric folk band – and it was good to see Chet back!
  • Loved 小人國2 – the “C9″ zombies, Angelababy/朱靚芳, and Jai Ho: fantastic entertainment, and much superior to 港女發狂之港男發瘟…

little HK

  • 情牽女人心演唱會: great songs, fantastic singers; brings back memories of school days…
  • Was a bit indifferent about “Cats" the musical: definitely not in the same league as Les Mis or Phantom. Dancing cats are not cute, and a plot is sorely missing. Why was this the longest running show on Broadway?
  • Japanese class is rather fun!
  • Hated Donald Tsang not so much for his spinelessness, but for his arrogance: “I believe my views represent those of all HK citizens." Fool!

PHEW! That’s all of April and May (and early June) covered. More soon!

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HKIFF Week 4: 二十四城記 (24 City)

二十四城記 (24 City) was the closing film of the HKIFF 2009: half-documentary, half-drama, it tells the story of the demolition of an arms manufacturing factory block in Chengdu – the 420 – and the construction of real estate, the 24 City, in its place. Intercutting interviews of real life workers who spent the better half of their lives working and living on the 420 block, and dramatised interviews with workers played by actors (e.g. Joan Chen), the film brings out the social impact of the rise and fall of industrialisation in communist China. Young comrades travel long distances to work in the big cities, becoming separated from their families; some of them get married and raise their own families on the factory block: it becomes a surrogate home for them, to which they develop a sense of belonging. Real and fictionalised interviews of the generation born in the late ’70s and early ’80s portray them as emancipated, to some extent – they are no longer bound to a life of hunching over machines in grim factories, and can afford to live comfortably and (relatively) freely. A memorable interview was that of a young girl, rollerskating on what appeared to be the roof of a building, so free of worries: even though both her parents work inside the 420, she has never been there. The conclusion of the film is optimistic: the future is bright (or at least brighter) for the kids. The film was shot beautifully – even the manufacturing process and the demolition looked poetic – and the choice of music was pleasantly nostalgic, with ありがとうあなた (Arigatou Anata, or “Thank you“) by 山口百惠 (!), 外面的世界 (“The World Outside") by 齊秦, etc. The real interviews did jar with the dramatised ones though: however skilled the actors were, they could not manage to be as authentic as the bona fide workers (Joan Chen was a bit too glamorous to be convincing as a factory worker, for example). It was a tale worth telling (and hearing) though, a slightly poignant coda for this year’s HKIFF (not counting the Bergman and Antonioni retrospectives to follow!).

24city

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Easter Clams and Scrabble

Easter weekend came and went: I had a lot of fun though, clam picking at Shui Hau Wan (水口灣) on Lantau Island on Good Friday, followed by a Hong Kong-style barbeque at Silvermine Bay the next day, and on Easter Monday I played scrabble with S, E and K at the latter’s shiny new flat (accompanied by Chet Baker music and some Grieg too). It was some weekend!

Clam picking was very rewarding – there were so many of them on the beach, and we got to eat them afterwards (a store in the nearby Shiu Hau village did the cooking for us). The trick is to scratch the wet sand lightly with a spade, and when it strikes something hard, to use one’s hand to feel around for the hard shell of the clams (hence the Cantonese expression 摸蜆, literally “feeling for clams"). The clams were generally less than 2 inches beneath the surface, so we moved around a lot on the beach to hunt for the shellfish; they ranged from about half an inch across to one that was 2-inch wide. I even managed to pull up a crab (beautifully camouflaged against the sandy beach)!

crab

clams1

clams3

clams2

Barbeque was lovely in the gorgeous sunshine on the Silvermine Bay beach: one revelation was barbequed Gouda cheese, which was like a cheese panini minus the bread!

And here is our glorious Scrabble board, pictured against a vibrantly coloured carpet K bought back from Mexico – I love it! Too bad we didn’t get time to play Monopoly, as we needed to grab a quick bite before watching 24 City at the HKIFF (more later!).

scrabble

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HKIFF Week 3: Religulous/Hunger/Aoi Tori (青い鳥)

My third week of the HK International Film Festival is filled with slightly more commercial choices than the previous 6 films. Religulous is a documentary directed by Larry Charles, who has previously brought us the notorious Borat movie. Continuing with what he does best – bringing out the ignorance, prejudice and bigotry in ordinary folk – he accompanies comedian Bill Maher on a trek across the world, trying to question religion. Not just the Mormon faith or Scientology, but the mainstream faiths too: Christianity bears a large part of the brunt, but Islam is not spared either. Essentially the ideas are similar to those expressed by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion: both the film and the book shine the light of reason and science on various faiths, and find most of them to be, well, religulous. A highly entertaining film (the mere sight of the Holy Land Experience in Florida, USA – biblical Disneyland, if you will – would make one break into uncontrollable laughter) which presents its arguments effectively without being overly preachy, Religulous is definitely a laudable effort in putting faiths to the test, though I doubt that there will be many converts. The pious will choose to ignore or condemn this as heresy, whereas the doubtful will find nothing new here (other than a good laugh). One is also acutely aware of the danger of sensational documentary editing, a la Michael Moore: interviewees often sound unbelievably arrogant or ignorant, but that could be due to his words being taken out of context of the entire interview, parts of which are edited out. That did not stop me from cracking up pretty much all the way through though!

religulous-poster

Hunger, on the other hand, was definitely not aiming for laughs. An account of a period during the Troubles of Northern Ireland, when arrested IRA members went on a hunger strike to protest against the refusal by the Thatcher government to grant them political prisoner status. The audience is confronted with harrowing images of prisoner abuse, intercut with the assassination of prison staff by IRA paramilitaries, and the emaciated body of Bobby Sands, a leader of the hunger strike. These distressing scenes are often painfully long, as if we should ourselves experience the beatings, the bloodshed and the hunger. Only by going through it ourselves can we ask the question: was all this worth it? The British government refused to back down until several prisoners died in the hunger strike, and countless other lives were of course lost in those days. And for what? If only both sides could put aside their stubborness, the human (as well as other) costs could have been much reduced. Director Steve McQueen succeeded in making a discomfiting film, evoking so much with visuals only (you can almost smell the human excrement being smeared on walls), and the cast – led by Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands – should be credited with bringing authenticity to a film that would have failed without it.

hunger

青い鳥 (pronounced Aoi tori in Japanese, meaning Blue Bird) again contrasts sharply with the films mentioned above. The story starts with a school that has just recovered from an incident – one of the students attempted suicide (and failed). The young boy mentions in his suicide note that he was bullied by his classmates into shoplifting from his parents’ convenience store, and holds several classmates responsible. Having been made to write confession essays, heavily edited by the teachers, the boy’s classmates were told that they have been forgiven for what they did. Their lives at school was to start afresh – Noguchi, the bullied boy, has since left the school – until the arrival of a substitute teacher, Mr Murauchi (the excellent Abe Hiroshi, or 阿部寬). Murauchi is taciturn, and stutters severely when he speaks, provoking many giggles in class. However, as soon as he arrives, he puts Noguchi’s old desk back in its original position before the incident, and proceeds to greet Noguchi before every lesson. “To live as if nothing has happened is cowardly," says Murauchi. One particular student, Sonobe, is feeling particularly guilty because he joined in with the bullying even though he used to be close to Noguchi. He becomes increasingly disconcerted as Murauchi continues to remind him of his betrayal every day, by greeting the empty seat: one day he asks, “Does disliking someone count as bullying?" To which Murauchi replies, “No, but trampling on someone, noticing the pain in the person and choosing to ignore the pain, that is bullying." One line that particularly moved me was when Murauchi told Sonobe, “Because of what you’ve done to Noguchi, he will never be able to forget about you; even though what you have done cannot be altered, the least you can do is to always remember (what you’ve done)." It brings to mind great historical atrocities – the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, the massacre of Chinese people by Japanese troops, all the way up to the Tiananmen Massacre – and the way that people try to rewrite history by, for instance, omitting these events from textbooks. I do hope that the director Nakanishi Kenji (中西健二) and screenwriter Iida Kenzaburo (飯田健三郎) had that in mind: the film is thoughtful but not too preachy, much to their credit. Abe Hiroshi is perfect as the almost angelic Murauchi, and the young Hongō Kanata (本鄉奏多) is precociously good as Sonobe. The film also features a beautiful song, called 鋼の心 (Heart of Steel), sung by まきちゃんぐ – one doesn’t have to understand Japanese to appreciate its sincerity (hear for yourself below). All in all, Aoi Tori is perhaps slightly cliched and proudly mainstream, but a highly enjoyable film nonetheless.

bluebird

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Decadence

Divine decadence is staying at the Four Seasons in Florence…even if it’s just for one night…(see the description in TIME here…)

4seasons-firenze
(Photograph courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze website)

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