gambitch - now available in blue
Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

I'm still deliberating over whether or not to accept the invitation to do the old job at an upcoming event (as I type this, the event is set to start in roughly four days). Unfortunately I am no closer to a final decision than I was before.

What stops me from making that call? For once it's not time - I happen to be available as long as I don't start stuffing appointments with other people into my schedule, left right and centre. But as much as I am available I can render myself unavailable. All I have to do is lie through my teeth.

I am thankful to myself I haven't done that, because that would have been the cheapest lie to get myself out of a situation so easily, and doing so would have meant I would never get the chance to play through my entire set of thoughts on the issue. Making a comeback - even if it's going to be a one-off affair - is a big thing, and I don't want to take this too lightly.

Do I want to go back? Well, the innate hunger is there. Months after walking out on the guys who have since coped excellently, I am rather shocked to find that the old bloodlust has only been hiding in a corner, rather than permanently going away. Shocked, because I could have sworn at one point I wanted to wash the whole thing out of my system and move on to other things. Sure, it has given me its share of joy and enrichment, but other things have since intervened and I wanted to take my focus elsewhere. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate anyone, and I'm not bitter over anything. It was just that I felt I should try something else. Much like how Eric Cantona moved on to do movies after so many brilliant moments at United. The Frenchman quit football at a point that was probably just after his peak, so he could perhaps still have offered plenty, but he didn't.

And then, months on, I had an invitation to go back and do a job. I declined, again, and I have since had a feeling that I wasn't so popular anymore. I wasn't really popular to begin with - I never bothered with that concept in my days bossing around. So just where that leaves me, go figure.

The thing is, that's weighing in my mind at the moment. I don't know why, but since I left the old job I have switched from a defiant, devil-may-care boss to a cautious, public-opinion-conscious outsider (dare I say outcast?). The roots of this kind of thing are traceable, for as age sets in and you realize the old arrogance and swagger aren't winning you too many friends and leave you with mostly fair-weather allies, being careful suddenly seems to be the smartest course of action. And it makes sense - since I've probably infuriated so many people already, it's a sound investment to keep a few bridges far away from the fire so you could always keep a fire exit. After all, I'm no Sir Alex. Despite all the enemies he may have made, there will always be old friends who fought the war with him or against him who respect him as an individual and aren't just admirers of his work and his results (while quietly cursing why they never get the same kind of luck). I don't have the luxury of that.

So I'm trying to be very careful with my decision here. I could easily say yes and unleash terror and destruction on a bunch of unsuspecting people using this opportunity to tune up for a major competition (none of whom are perhaps harbouring any real intent to win), so much so that they wonder aloud why I'm eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Or I could just go there and judge as a machine would - just do the job, shut up and go home. The only problem is I don't know which version of me is going to show up if I did go.

So maybe it makes more sense then, that the most cautious approach to this is to simply decline the invitation again, and go on with my boring life as if nothing has happened. That's easy to do - it sounds like the most stone-cold, rational decision - but an instinctive bloodlust is giving serious resistance. Yet at the same time I don't feel too keen to face these people, who I still know, and who still know me, because black pasts threaten to catch up and there are still ghosts I haven't worked out how to exorcize.

At the end of this passage I remain no closer to a decision than I was at the start of it. Should I or shouldn't I? It's a standard "two choose one" problem, but is it really that simple? Or am I just complicating the entire picture for the most insane of reasons - that complicating the picture is easier to do and requires less commitment compared to the option of actually having to make that decision?

I don't know. I could use help. Suggestions on a postcard, please.

gambitch [ 8:52 PM]

My mistake - the Euro 2004 quarter-final matchups are Group A vs Group B, not Group B vs Group C, so Italy can't see France until the semi-finals at least.

Spain vs France would be an interesting match, since both of them are among my hotter picks for the title, and for them to meet so early in the tournament is going to be a bit sad. To avoid that, both teams must top their group - I don't expect either to settle for going second, simply because when it comes to international tournaments, patriotic fervour easily overrides attempts at strategic positioning.

On the other hand, a Greece vs England quarter-final could well turn out to be a stifling bore. Don't get me wrong, I don't think boring play is bad play if it's the best way to advance in a tournament, but big tournaments like this should showcase beautiful football as often as it can, especially for the sake of the millions of fans around the world who follow the sport for reasons apart from "look at Owen, he's soooo cuuuuuuute". Ugh.

So the Bulgars have flattered to deceive. Damn. There goes my dark horse prediction. But the Danes aren't doing too badly. Can they overtake BOTH the Italians and the Swedes, who they have to face in the next round? I'm still suspicious, but with the Italians flagging somewhat, I wouldn't be too surprised if Gronkjaer and co. make it into the last eight at the expense of the Azzurri.

gambitch [ 3:10 AM]

Friday, June 18, 2004

More music picks from my mental playlists:

Copacabana, the classic Barry Manilow hit;
Maria Maria, one of the few Santana songs I actually know and like;
Theme from The Empire of Kangxi, "I really want to live five hundred years!";
We Will Rock You, performed right it is one of the best chants in a stadium;
Within Attraction, again a major feature from Yanni's Acropolis concert;
End of Love, not the easiest song to sing from Wu Bai's collection, but great;
Blessing, a signature piece from Jacky Cheung in the mid-90s;
Alternating Currents, a light, jumpy piece from Spyro Gyra (aren't they all?);
Theme from Carmina Burana, one of the most-used opera pieces in the ad industry;
My Way, Ol' Blue Eyes and everyone else who covered it just can't get enough of it!

gambitch [ 11:02 AM]

Some of the results from Euro 2004 so far have been either exciting or ridiculous, depending on what your perspective is. I'm happy for the English that their team didn't choke against Switzerland, but who'd expect France to do no better than salvage a 2-2 draw against Croatia? Not that the Croats are no good, but the French are better than this result suggests.

The equation in Group B? With the teams on 4-3-2-1, England and France are the teams in the more advantageous positions, and can both play for draws in their final games. Which should not be a problem, except the Swiss aren't planning to roll over and play dead, and Croatia has expressly stated their strategy was to hold the French and go all out against Sven's men.

All of which should make the last group games interesting.

Francesco Totti has been hit with a 3-match suspension. As the Azzurri's star striker, that is no doubt a big blow, especially with Alessandro Del Piero hardly hitting hot form. There may be strength in reserve in the Italian squad, but morale is going to take a hit, more so since they were held by the Danes in a somewhat unfavourable 0-0 draw.

I'm having a hunch that Italy will end up second in the group, behind current leaders Sweden, and with France likely to advance top of Group B, that would set up a mouth-watering France vs Italy match... in the quarter-finals! Also in the quarter-finals, Sven faces his country of birth, Sweden. Now that'd be a treat if it happens!

gambitch [ 9:41 AM]

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Current music selection: Comrade Lover by Luo Da You. Title translation potentially inaccurate.

I was just watching a video replay of the Taiwanese movie King of Chess, starring Tony Leung Kar Fai among others. Wonderful, gripping movie, then again I'd expect it since it was an art rather than commercial film.

Chess is a great game. It stimulates your brain and keeps you occupied plotting and planning, while anticipating all the moves of your opponent. Never mind that I've never actually been a good chess player - the fact is I probably was too lazy to train properly, and the fact that I tended to lose easily in recreational games doesn't help matters much where inspiration was concerned. I still admire people who can play a solid game, and I enjoy watching a game, as long as people weren't rushing to make their moves. If you have the time to appreciate the purpose of each move, that's where the fun is.

Perhaps my inadequacy as a chess player has been a motivation to prove a few things, like my belief that I'm not stupid. There are other games that equally demand a lot in terms of strategy and manoeuvering around. That's why I really enjoy turn-based strategy games where I get to deliberate to my heart's content. Okay, so I still can't play chess, but I find that a slightly regretful thing I have long since come to terms with.

My latter years in "the profession" have mostly been devoted to training other people to become exponents in their chosen field. This in spite of the fact that I'm probably a sharply below-average hack myself. I've never enjoyed much success when I was in the ring as a speaker - five wins out of fourteen starts in the majors isn't what anyone would consider an inspired result. So sometimes I ask myself why in the world I even try to be a decent trainer. To answer my own question, I look to Sir Alex at Old Trafford. Great boss, but a player of limited talent, but a great boss. That's where I drew inspiration from.

Along the way I crossed over to "the other side" and started judging the performance of others as a serious career alternative. I'd like to think I didn't do too badly, but lately I've learned that it is much better not to build up too many positive illusions about yourself, especially the kind where you can never verify the truth of those illusions. Maybe I was good, maybe I wasn't. I don't like to think too much about that kind of thing now. Partially it's the dreadful thought of "what if my assessment was wrong?".

Recently I've been invited to go back and take up the old job. I'm flattered to receive the invitation, honestly - if nothing else, it proves that people remember. What I am not so sure about, though, is whether I am ready to re-enter the ring after the shock walkout. In other words, whether I'm able to clean up a mess of my own creation and restore the slate. Sometimes bad tastes in the mouth linger, sometimes they don't, sometimes they were never there at all to start with. Yet I'm nervous about having to find out at all, never mind that the only way is the hardest way.

Who knows? It could be like Roy Keane's first game after hip surgery. Going in for those hard tackles after recovering from a damaging injury sometimes involves a whole truckload of mind games, and unfortunately the more time you have to think about it, the worse those mind games become.

Maybe I'll kill some of that time by working on my latest story. Yes, that's right, I'm writing.

gambitch [ 4:56 PM]

Latest result: Spain 1-1 Greece. Portugal to play Russia in less than an hour from the time this entry is being written.

That leaves us on:
Greece 2-1-1-0-3-2-4
Spain 2-1-1-0-2-1-4
Portugal 1-0-0-1-1-2-0
Russia 1-0-0-1-0-1-0
where the numbers represent played-won-drew-lost-goals for-goals conceded-points.

If Portugal draws Russia and beats Spain, and Russia beats Greece, we could have the unlikely scenario where all four teams are tied! But Russia would have to beat Greece. Who'd bet on that?

If Portugal wins, then the game with Spain could become the killer. Spain only needs a draw to go through, but Portugal must win, and the only way both teams can be saved involves - don't hold your breath - Russia beating Greece.

If Portugal loses, sorry, game over. Spain will still need a point against Figo et al to secure passage, but even if they lose they can still go through if the margins are right. It's unlikely both Iberian teams will be out, but you never know...

Post-game edit: Portugal won 2-0, so a draw coupled with a Greek loss could be enough to see Portugal through.

gambitch [ 2:12 AM]

Following the latest announcement from Singapore's Ministry of Defence that compulsory national service for the more educated will be slashed by six months, so that the service period is now two full years across the board, the various universities in that island have today come out to say that they are looking at altering the enrolment calendar so that students can matriculate in January or February rather than the current time of August. Detailed reports are available here.

Now, I'm not too interested about why the term of service has been reduced, but I can see a lot of happy faces beaming up across the island. I am hardly an expert in military matters, so I'll leave it to the ones who know better. It seems odd, though, that the universities are thinking about shifting their calendar by a full half-year just to try to accommodate this change. In fact, I think it is a bad idea to start with.

Two reasons stand out. Firstly, the global university calendar. British universities start school anywhere between August and October. American colleges generally work with the July-September window, with a few in October. The point is, the first semester usually starts in fall. It's the opposite in Australia - they start in spring - but that's explained by the fact that Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere and the seasons are out of sync by exactly six months. Which means they also start school in the second half of the year.

By bringing forward the period of matriculation to the January-March window, what the universities are doing is essentially setting themselves up such that they are out of sync with the big universities in the English-speaking world. I'm sure there are other universities with odd schedules - I know of a university in Japan where classes start in March or thereabouts - but those are exceptions. It seems even more strange for Singapore's universities, which are striving to become world-class educational institutions that make the island nation a Massachusetts of the East, considering that they have been making big and small adjustments for the past five years or so just so they can sync themselves with Europe and America. Think about things like summer school programmes, exchange students, and things like that. That has been their pursuit for the last five years, so why would they jeopardize all those schemes with such a massive calendar shift?

The second reason I find this silly is that rushing things forward to let people graduate six months earlier from university makes no sense. We're talking about men coming out of the army to enter school quite immediately, with no opportunity for work experience and a little chance to see the world. Girls in the country currently have a six-month break before they go into college, and at least two months of that period is mandatory because the results for the A-Levels don't come out until mid-March. Lots of girls spend that time waitressing or working as sales assistants or office labour. Whatever one has to say about photocopying meeting minutes and other such mundane tasks, that's time well spent building work experience.

Bringing the calendar forward to February or March just makes poor sense, because that would leave young people with only two or three months, hardly a meaningful period of time to get a good temp job. They can still backpack halfway across Asia and Australia in three months, but not everyone is into backpacking. That work experience is going to be bloody useful for these kids if they play their cards right. In fact, it's potentially very vital.

With many friends who are still out of work more than a year since their graduation, I know full well how companies today are not interested in getting fresh graduates. Look in the advertisement sections of the newspapers and you'll often find that many job opening announcements request for applicants who have "relevant work experience". You just don't get that if you rush from high school to university, or if you spend two years firing rifles in the army. This six-month time window can thus spell the difference between immediate employment and going on the parental dole. It's an employer's market out there, they get to pick and choose. What chance do fresh grads who never went through six months in an office have?

Oh, I hear some of you say things like "go for internships while in university". Not a bad idea, except the opportunities for internship are not equal across faculties. Some faculties have maintained well-established internship programmes where the students actually do something useful learning about their work environment. Others have dumped the internship programme altogether, for a whole host of reasons I can't exhaustively name. So students from certain faculties are at risk of systematic suffering because the faculty they studied in isn't offering an internship programme. So they're left to rot and die.

Nobody's asking for the Government and universities to nanny the kids all the way to their graduation. Each side has its duties and perogatives to consider. But I believe the reasons in favour of bringing forward the enrolment date, however attractive they sound, must be rejected. The status quo works well, and actually creates more opportunities for young people to be gainfully employed upon their graduation. It is sometimes more economically efficient to choose the option where production ends later, but has a bigger chance to come out much better.

gambitch [ 12:58 AM]

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Okay, here's something really random. I don't know where this will take me, but let's try this...



gambitch [ 8:35 AM]

A random selection of some of the music I listen to:

Poppy Roses, a Chinese song by Bobby Chen;
Swept Away, by Yanni, Acropolis concert edition;
Cry Me A River, Julie London rendition;
Subaru, arguably the most popular work by Japanese crooner Shinji Tanimura;
New York State of Mind, I've heard several versions of this, including Keiko Lee;
Songbird, by Kenny G, a bit saccharine I know;
Mars Colony, slightly grand, but a fine piece from the Space Travellers movie soundtrack;
Se Despierta La Ciudad, from the FIFA Football 2004 game soundtrack;
Hana No Youni, from Takako Matsu, the title translating as "like a flower";
Viva!, the clean, un-dance version performed by Bond.

Other songs another time...

gambitch [ 2:02 AM]

I just bought a book earlier this evening. A mighty long time since I'd last done that, but then again I haven't been out shopping for books for a mighty long time. I had even given this year's book fair a miss, which is something considering I usually end up splurging several hundreds of dollars on all sorts of books at a normal book fair.

Anyway, the book. It's a humorous work by this journalist called Neil Humphreys. He's British, but he somehow didn't like life in England. The exact details are explained in his first book, Notes From An Even Smaller Island, which describes his observations about the place he moved to, Singapore. Yes, that little island sitting just above the equator. That book was a surprising success, becoming a national bestseller and a source of much talk among locals who actually bother to read. He has since written a second book, describing even more of his experiences in his new home. The title of the second book? Scribbles From The Same Island. That's the book I bought.

I won't spoil the book for you by giving away the details, but it's fun reading. The fact is I enjoy reading books like these, simply because these books convey a little about what the author thinks, and sharing thoughts is to me something very important. I like sharing my thoughts as much as I like hearing other people share theirs. Maybe I get mistaken for someone who is just plain talkative, but I would like to hear other people share their views, experiences, and other such things, if only they speak up, or write them down. I'm a happy reader.

I sometimes ask myself why I don't take up writing as a career. By which I mean becoming an author, not a journalist. There's a difference between the two, and I don't suppose I have to expand too much on that, but to answer my own question I guess it's a little more challenging trying to state the facts and do the analyses for people, which journalists do, on a daily basis. News comes in, you report it, talk about the significance of the events, look at the repercussions, and ensure the event leaves something of an impression on people's minds. Author-type writing is a little different. It's more of an art than a skill sometimes, and I'm not the greatest person when it comes to arts. At least I know my limitations.

I returned from my book shopping trip thoroughly happy. Did I mention that I had difficulty finding the book at Borders? I didn't? Now I did. The book was on the humour shelves, and I had previously thought I would have better luck locating it in the travel section. Hell, if Under The Tuscan Sun can be found as a travellers' journal, why not this book? But of course, I didn't find it there, and the fiction section drew a blank (I should have known...). So I resorted to turning to the information counter, which isn't an altogether shameful thing.

I was served by this warm and friendly young lady who looks a little like one of my many acquaintances. Needless to say, I put on my best behaviour possible (limited by the fact that I was wearing a black T-shirt, shorts and a pair of outlandish trainers) when I asked about the book. The young sales assistant (yes I'm promoting her a bit by using these politically correct terms) was a help, not unexpectedly, though I detected a slightly apologetic streak when she first said stock for the book had just arrived and wasn't up on the shelves yet, and then returned to say they were actually on display somewhere else, and even brought me a copy (I was browsing through a collection of Peanuts comics just a shelf away).

I got home just in time to catch the last minutes in the final episode of another forgettable local soap which I never wanted to watch. The only reason the soap was on my family's television was that my mother, like all mothers of her generation, wanted to watch something on television, never mind it was mindless and daft. Which this show was. Anyway, the female lead was played by the biggest shot of them all, no less. A star without the prima donna arrogance displayed by some of her lesser colleagues (no names), she nevertheless suffered from the predictable problem of having a stuck screen image, where she was beautiful and everything. So in this serial the producers decided to give her a serious makeover, turning her into this ugly, bad-hair, big plastic-framed glasses ah soh. If you don't understand what an ah soh is, think of this dedicated homemaker who essentially doesn't know anything else, and the only shopping she does is in the supermarket for meat and vegetables.

Anyway, this character in the show had a really bad life, and a very bad husband. Not altogether surprisingly, after putting up with the bad husband for most of the show, she divorced him, went through a few months living out a nondescript life, and then meets up with her goood friend (the male lead). And they lived happily ever after. Yawn.

What's the big deal about this? Well, the big deal was that in one of the show's final shots, the female lead turns up. Sans bad hair and bad glasses. Instead she turns up as what is supposed to be a ravishing beauty, long, coloured hair, chic dress and all. Very unlike an ah soh, and very much more like the image the actress in question has usually cut. The very image she was stuck with for so long.

The first reaction I had was "huh?", and the second, which followed within half a second, was "duh!". Having gone to all that expense just to hype up the image change, what do we see? A lapse straight back into "the usual look". This only proves one thing - idols cannot be proper character actors who can respectfully dump their usual image for the full duration of the show. Of course, there would be those who counter that there are idols who are character actors. And there are. The only problem was, these people were usually character actors first, and through their sheer solid performance rise to prominence, thus earning the adulation of their fans. It just doesn't happen the other way round, unless:
(a) you actually have the talent, and
(b) someone actually has the eyes to spot it and play it up.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't think this actress, "the Queen of the Hill" as she is sometimes referred to, is that great, but I do think she is competent, certainly more competent than some of the rubbishy prima donnas who think they're bigshots after appearing in a Hollywood film and releasing a couple of albums that have since been collecting dust in second-hand shops. If I had to blame someone, I'd pick the people who wrote these hopeless scripts, and the people producing and directing these shows. These are the people we should really blame for feeding the dreams of people who dream to be the next big idol, and not spending enough time to produce shows that have some kind of artistic strength.

Enough about this. I'd better get back to my book!

gambitch [ 1:12 AM]

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

A second post, sort of a special something extra...

I was at this filming of a local chatshow of sorts. Explaining what was going on would prove difficult, since my vocabulary isn't that great, but suffice to say, my role was to sit there and be part of the audience, and if I had an opinion I wanted to voice, I could reserve it for the designated open discussion section of the show. It's a pre-recorded show, and I was at the recording. I kinda like doing this type of thing; it gives you first-hand experience of all the juicy bits that never get shown on the telly due to time constraints and other flimsier reasons.

So this evening I was at one such recording, and the topic being discussed was abandoned babies and abortions. There were two telephone interviews, one involving a 15-year-old who gave birth to a baby and subsequently gave it up for adoption, against her initial impulses. The second featured a 19-year-old who has already had two different sex partners and two abortions. Watching the interview, one could see the very different attitudes the hosts displayed towards the two interviewees. Attitudes that are entirely justifiable, by the way. There was some kindness and compassion for the younger girl, who thought of abortion as something cruel and destructive and sincerely wanted to fulfil her role as mother even if the boy didn't want to take on his share of responsibility. Okay, so she was wrong to have engaged in pre-marital sex this young, but she clearly learned her lesson and looks set to cherish everything life will offer to her. My heart goes out, in its slight way, to people like her.

The older girl, by comparison, left me shuddering. According to her, most of her friends are already experienced in bed, and at two abortions she doesn't lead the charts for most abortions done - a friend of hers has done at least four. What's even more galling is how she just seems to go for abortions without batting an eyelid. Well, she gets a little upset and mildly depressed for about two weeks, and then it's as if nothing happened. A couple of old men among the audience were visibly disapproving of such an attitude, while many others were more careful not to demonstrate their displeasure in public. I was shocked.

To be frank I don't understand how people can have such an open attitude towards sex. "Pleasure first, pain later, but the pain will fade anyway so go on and soak in the pleasure" seems to be the best way to sum up the attitude. I am not sure if that is how the majority of youth today thinks, but if that is true I'm depressed to be in a minority that seems to be a whole generation apart. My beliefs are, for the most part, much more conservative, and while I accept that individuals are free to lead the lives they so choose, I have also never been the greatest fan of this "pleasure principle". Maybe I'm a wee bit Kantian in my thinking, but I'm entitled to that.

It almost gets on my nerves how I can have a set of values so sharply opposed to those that appear to belong to people only a few years younger than myself. Okay, sometimes I wish I were younger so that I could loosen up and enjoy life a bit, but it goes beyond that. If you've got a mind that thinks as if you're 40, it doesn't matter how old you really are, you'll end up looking like you're 40. It's true, it shows.

Even in the old days when I was still in "the profession", I have come up naturally in defence of a government that, for all the complaints it gets, has truly got its fundamentals right. The little problems aren't always the Government's fault - sometimes people think it is, and that's a brilliant excuse for them to decide to clam up and not prove that the opposite is true. It's like refusing to walk through a glass doorway because you think the door is shut. And I've liked to prove that it really isn't - you just think it's shut and can't be bothered to try opening it. Maybe it's because it's fashionable in your youth to be anti-establishment, and that would put me in the pro-establishment camp since the ripe young age of, oh, 21? But I am shocked by how people merely a few years younger than me can almost call me "uncle" because of the way I think.

Maybe I envy these youngsters because they have a richer social life than I can ever dream of having. Maybe it's because I'm dysfunctional that I suspect that it's really these other people who are the dysfunctional ones. Maybe I'm beginning to feel old even before I hit 30. Some would say "who the f*** cares" (I wouldn't quite say that; it's not my thing), and there's some wisdom in that statement, but it doesn't stop me from looking back from time to time and asking myself what it would have been like if, starting from way back when I was still wearing uniforms and white Bata shoes, I had chosen a different life from what I have chosen now.

When the clock can't be turned back and life can't be lived a second time, you know you're stuck with every decision you've made since your childhood. And half the time, you would probably have chosen differently if you had the knowledge you did 20 years from now. The other half of the time, you just can't tell.

gambitch [ 1:52 AM]

So, the tournament gets off on the perfect footing. Portugal loses, and then England loses. Heh heh heh. This just gets more and more fun.

Meanwhile other things happen in other parts of the world. You've heard of the killings in Iraq by now, but that is utterly boring. Instead I prefer to talk about Taiwan. More specifically, Taiwanese people who ply their trade in mainland China. Tensions are currently riding high across the straits, over three months since the fateful election that was itself a fiasco of sorts. But enough of the elections. Chen Shui-bian somehow won, and we outsiders just have to get over it.

What is happening now is a little more, um, funny. You see, a number of Taiwanese businessmen have been spending time building their corporate empires in mainland China. This should not be surprising, since everybody is going to China to invest and make money. The Americans do it, so why not the Taiwanese? Ah, but a number of the Taiwanese merchant kings happen to be backers of the DPP in Taiwan, which is Chen Shui-bian's party. The DPP espouses Taiwanese independence, eventually if not immediately, depending on how old and how ambitious the kingmakers in DPP are. Generally, the older ones want it quickly, the younger ones have been more pragmatic, but no one in the party wants to maintain a status quo that is hazy. So that's the DPP. And they have their backers among the Taiwanese businessmen who made it in China.

Now, by and large, countries don't really care what the foreign investors do in terms of politics, or at least if they don't want a certain businessman with political leanings that don't match those of the government in the country being invested in, they just quietly stymie all applications to do business. China doesn't care for the most part when it comes to corporate American businesses. But Taiwan is a different proposition. You see, in China's eyes Taiwan remains part of China, so the Taiwanese merchants are not quite foreign; but Taiwanese businessmen travel using Taiwanese travel documents that aren't the same as those issued by China itself, so they aren't quite local either. This paradoxical situation, plus the current diplomatic deep freeze state between the two sides, led to unusual actions by the Chinese authories, namely openly denouncing Taiwanese businessmen who "make their pots of gold in China and then turn around to back Taiwan independence". The nation's leaders have blacklisted these individuals and declared them persona non grata.

You'd think that would be it, but in a country like China, whose population is the largest in the world, and whose people are capable of fervent and open displays of patriotism in the way that developed countries like America can't quite match, this would of course not be the end of the story. Stories have floated around in China's very state-censored Internet that there are a number of Taiwanese entertainers who are also pro-independence, and consequently many connected folks have threatened to boycott these artistes. Leading the way among the sacrificial lambs is Chang Huei-mei, or A*mei as she is more popularly known. She happens to be from a native tribe in Taiwan, and perhaps because of this, she was invited all the way back in 2000 (she was already popular then) to sing Taiwan's national anthem at Chen's first inauguration. She has been branded a pro-independence artiste ever since. True to their word, some members of the Chinese web community, who happen to be university students, have since acted to boycott A*mei's ongoing tour of China. A press conference and a performance in Hangzhou have already been cancelled, and she may not be allowed to perform as a guest in friend Wang Lee Hom's concert, also in China.

Now all this sounds rather irrational, and I definitely think it is, but the story goes further. Just these two days, news has emerged that some Taiwanese youngsters, probably fans of A*mei, have threatened tit-for-tat measures, with their chief target being Beijing-born Faye Wong - who, mind you, really made her name in Hong Kong. Now I'm not sure whether Faye Wong has ever claimed she wanted Taiwan to just bow down and surrender to China, or anything like that. The thing is, neither did A*mei make similar political pronouncements, and for that matter most artistes have not. Entertainment and politics have just never mixed in the Chinese pop circle. So why is this storm in a teacup brewing for no good reason?

I just find the whole episode hilarious, unreal, and frankly, utterly sad. The kind of fervent hatred that fuelled the incident in the first place has already reached out its evil tentacles and wrapped them firmly around the hearts and minds of sections of youth in China's society. We may yet take comfort from the fact that this is no longer the China of the Cultural Revolution era, and mass state propaganda isn't what it used to be. It may be subtler, but with capitalism and the American dream gaining a foothold, it is also less effective. But you just need enough of these people to create a certain critical mass, and the impasse will go on until the end of time, or until the fervent youths become state leaders twenty or thirty years from now. Who knows? It might just happen. And then...

gambitch [ 1:10 AM]


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