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

Saturday, July 03, 2004

It all started a few years ago with this dream I had. I was walking on this street when the strangest thing happened. I can't quite remember why I did it, but I started moving my legs with this real rapidity I was practically running. The only difference was that I wasn't really moving very far forward; it was not some century sprint. Then again I wasn't running on the spot - I was actually moving forward! Before I knew it, my feet gradually stopped touching the ground, but I was still running. I was running in the air!

The funny part was, I was the only one in the sky. It's difficult to describe how that felt, partly because I was dreaming, but it did feel good knowing that I could defy the laws of physics without any physical aid like jetpacks. And no, it wasn't really that exhausting. Once I was in the air, I no longer had to keep my legs moving. I could pretty much move around freely, as long as I willed my body to float in one direction or the other, and as long as I knew where the wind was blowing and worked with it.

Of course, that was a dream, and fun as dreams are, they aren't real. I still wish I actually knew how to float into the air, or how to just levitate, so that sometimes I didn't actually have to walk among the crowd and bump around when passing through narrow passageways. I just had a stark reminder of that last night, when I was heading home after stopping by a shopping district to buy some food for dinner. I was crossing this overhead bridge that had escalators in place of stairs, and unfortunately one escalator had broken down and was under servicing, so what happened was people were moving up and down along a single narrow escalator that had been switched off so people could walk. It was hardly a joy having to squeeze along two-way traffic, and perhaps if I was some kind of Spider-man I could just have hopped up and clung on to the roof over my head, before swinging down the bridge. Then again, if I could do that, I probably wouldn't have needed to cross the street to take a bus home.

Still, I've had dreams of this kind before. Some months back I had another dream along the same theme, only this time I was some kind of Spider-man with neither costume nor web to spin. In other words, I could pretty much bound about and cling on to walls or ceilings, not to mention long aimless floats in space. It was a little disconcerting not knowing what to do when the laws of gravity just completely went berserk for me alone, but after the first thirty seconds it kind of became fun. I wasn't really revelling in it, though. Still, it's a useful little ability to have, for those occasions when I just didn't want to walk with the crowd on occasion.

And then it happened again this morning. Another dream about flying, or more correctly in this case, gliding. The setting was a little unfamiliar, since it was some city I have never seen before. Not something superbly built up along the lines of super-modern New York or Los Angeles, but it was some kind of city. Strange thing was, it was populated with people who looked familiar. I don't know what that means - I've never actually studied dream interpretation, and it's one of the weirdest topics to try to learn.

Anyway, the flying experience. Again I don't quite know why I did it, but I took a short run towards some stairs that were going downwards, and just before I reached the stairs, I started to run myself off the ground. I can't remember what exactly I was wearing, but I knew I wasn't having any mechanical aids, nor was I holding on to some kind of hang-glider. Anyway, once I was in the air, I started to glide, gradually, sometimes staying level, occasionally floating up, and sometimes going down. I was flying through all sorts of things - holes in the floor across storeys, large courtyard-ish things, flights of stairs laid in dignified stone and brick... The architecture was strangely mixed, but the scenery was beautiful. And I was never really far away from touching ground, but I never did.

Somewhere along the dream I remember flying close to a large pillar, and someone was hiding behind the column trying to bring me down to earth out of playful fun. I remember gliding upwards and away from him, before touching the column and going around it. Eventually I pushed my feet against his arm and launched myself away into the air again, continuing to glide above floors and down the stairs. I never kept track of how many storeys I must have travelled, but eventually I was flying towards ground level and heading out of a building.

And that's when it happened. I flew through a bunch of various friends, before bringing myself to a gentle halt against a low wall that hardly reached up to my chest. And that's when I looked ahead and realized the street wasn't empty. It was daytime, high noon, and cars, taxis, trams and buses were all buzzing in front of me. I still don't know where I was, but I did remember saying to myself "That was beautiful! I want to try it again!" And I did.

The strangest part of the whole dream, which I loved but didn't understand, was that throughout the flight, a piece of music was humming in the background, gradually coming to a crescendo. It wasn't until a little later that I realized what the song was: Tempting Heart by Taiwanese singer Shino Lin, the theme song for a movie of the same name. Eventually the full song was playing, with Shino singing of course. I'm not sure what that means, but if what I saw was anything to go by...

gambitch [ 3:01 PM]

I read with slight bemusement news that Chelsea have released dependable striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and wasted little time in securing a replacement in the form of Mateja Kezman. I don't know whether this was a Mourinho move, but I would be quite certain that, had he still been manager of Chelsea, Claudio Ranieri would never have agreed to both moves put together.

Hasselbaink is a great striker on English soil. He showed everyone how good he was when he first signed for Leeds United. God knows why he was sold on to a Spanish club - maybe it had to do with large wage demands - but looking at where Leeds were last season, they would have done well to keep him on their books. As it was, Chelsea benefitted greatly from his return to English football, and he's probably the best man they have in the squad right now in terms of attack, best partnered only by that comeback kid Eidur Gudjohnsen.

The truth is that Adrian Mutu and Hernan Crespo didn't have good seasons at Chelsea. Mutu's not really had that many games thanks to his high-profile relationship problems, while Crespo needed to take some time to adapt. In their absence, the Gudjohnsen-Hasselbaink combination secured some really great results for Chelsea. Just look at how they beat Arsenal in the Champions' League - the two of them accounted for that win as much as Frank Lampard and John Terry would have. But what does Abramovich do? Dump Hasselbaink and grab Kezman for what I guess would be a large fee. They also snapped up Arjan Robben when they already had Damien Duff, who I think commanded quite a record fee himself.

I sometimes don't quite get how these people go about conducting their transfers. If Mutu or Crespo were the ones being sold I would understand, or if a fifth striker was brought in I could see the intention. But now the Pensioners have just sold off arguably their best striker without doing very much to wake up their worst. And they've splurged like crazy this summer, having already acquired Paulo Ferreira as well, again on a transfer fee upwards of 10 million pounds. Okay, Roman, I know you're rich. Quit flogging it as if you're trying to escape from the Russian government!

I read somewhere in the papers that Christina Aguilera was paid two hundred thousand pounds to open a store for Mohamed Al-Fayed, and spent some of that fee buying things like a deluxe Scrabble set, later challenging people to play against her, saying something like "I'm the champ!". I find the whole episode absurd anyway, but that last line is getting me riled up. Okay, big star, if you think you're so good then take me on! If you can't beat even a sad Asian for whom English is a second language, then quit bragging, and go join Paris Hilton on a farm!

gambitch [ 12:09 AM]

Friday, July 02, 2004


The goal was a surprise, really. A Greece corner in the final minute of the first half of extra time, and nothing elaborate, just a straightforward header from the near post. The ball was in the back of the net before anyone realized it. I wouldn't call it a great goal in itself, but the timing was impeccable.

The Czechs had played well up to that point, but were showing signs of tiring. Come to think of it, the same was true for the Greeks. It was obviously a physically demanding game, and the Czechs did most of the pushing. Indeed I didn't remember the Greeks doing very much themselves until Giannakopoulos was brought on, but the backline did very well to hold firm and keep Baros in firm check. Indeed Baros had a rougher day than Koller, who was conceding fouls no thanks to his massive build.

I missed sections of the match because I was switching channels to watch Iron Chef, but I gathered that Pavel Nedved was taken off shortly before half time, with Vladimir Smicer brought on. The difference was rather obvious to me. Smicer's probably a fine person, and I assume he has to be of some good (he's still playing for Liverpool), but he was so much less exciting and less dangerous than Nedved. Rosicky and Poborsky became less effective in setting up attacking positions, because the link between midfield and attack was no longer there - that's what Nedved is good at. Poborsky had to run all over the place and take the corners, while Rosicky... Well, he worked very hard, and had set up a late one-two with Jan Koller, but the big man pulled the ball too wide. Smicer's contribution was too limited. Not doing a big amount to boost his value.

So it all goes back to the beginning then. The fixture that was the curtain raiser will also be the final curtain call at Euro 2004. I definitely didn't expect things to turn out this way. Never mind Greece; Portugal was a big surprise, overcoming Spain, England, Holland. But it all began with a defeat against Hellas (that's Greece in Greek, I think). Will Rehhagel register the ultimate shock in tournament history and beat Portugal once again in the final? Or will the hosts finally break the curse and win their first major trophy in football history?

I could now join the bandwagon and predict that Greece will do the double. But that's not taking into account the fact that Scolari is, on top of being a brilliant tactician, a man who learns his mistakes quickly and plays his cards shrewdly. Mistakes that surfaced in the opening game have been quickly patched. For evidence, see Miguel, Carvalho and Nuno Valente. The shaky backline that faced Greece the first time will not line up again all at the same time, surely. These men will replace them, and replace them well, as they have done all tournament since. And having worked out what went wrong against a very solid Greek defence, I think Ronaldo, and especially Figo, will now realize what it is they need to do to break them down.

This tournament has been topsy-turvy, but I don't think it will have too big an impact on the European transfer market. The stars who shone have mostly settled into big clubs already, unless Real Madrid starts waving its chequebook again, though I'd be hard-pressed to think who they will want to buy now given the upcoming fight for club presidency. The ones to prise away will probably include a number of Portuguese players, but the Greeks probably won't get too many offers. They may have done very well as a team, but as individuals these guys are quite ordinary. Break them up from the national setup and we see there are really no big stars. Well, maybe Charisteas and Karagounis qualify... The one man whose stock would have soared the highest among the Greece camp is undoubtedly Otto Rehhagel, but half the German clubs wouldn't want him because his personality is larger than life, and besides, he wants to lead Greece into the World Cup in, surprise surprise, Germany!

Anyway, with no football for another two nights, it's a great opportunity to catch up on lost sleep. I could do with some of that!

gambitch [ 5:51 AM]

Thursday, July 01, 2004

So the Dutch have faltered once again at the semi-final stages of a major championship. They can take some pride in their performances in the build-up to that game against Portugal, including breaking their penalty shootout hoodoo. But they were just completely outclassed by two brilliant set-pieces by the Portuguese.

Ruud van Nistelrooy should have seen it coming - Cristiano Ronaldo netting with a header from a corner after being left totally unmarked. That's how he scored against Millwall in the FA Cup, and that's how he scored against van der Sar. Ruud can only have kind words for the youngster though, and the closing footage showed the two swapping shirts before others claimed them, and the two hugged each other and exchanged congratulations. Ruud was gracious on the night, and while he might have been a little unhappy with Anders Frisk's performance on the night, I'm sure he doesn't totally hate him, and I'm sure Frisk would take it in his stride - players always have a slight moan about the ref.

The Czech-Greece match will be curious. The Czechs are overwhelming favourites to win against a Greece whose fairytale should have ended long ago according to most neutrals, including me. Having said that, I wouldn't mind the Greeks winning again and setting up a rematch of the last World Cup - a Brazil vs Germany final in the form of Luiz Felipe Scolari and Otto Rehhagel. It will be interesting how these two coaches, one with international renown, and the other a man loved in his new homeland but hated by some quarters in his place of birth, match up against each other. Scolari has done the big things with Brazil and a host of clubs, and he is on the verge of bringing glory to a nation hungering for it for years upon years. Another, with a smaller handful of trophies to his name in Germany, is poised to continue exceeding all expectations, even those of the people who employed him. Only the Czechs stand in the way, threatening to spoil the Greek party.

A friend has been making a lot of correct guesses for the results of the knockout stages. I have joked to the friend about placing a bet or two, though in reality I would probably not do this myself. Betting for fun is one thing, but only if you can afford it in the first place. Betting with the serious intention of making some cold hard cash is another matter. Besides, betting to make money is unreliable in the long term. If I want to set up a way to rake in cash, I would want to make sure that the money rolls in month after month, year after year.

It's actually a philosophy I've developed from playing computer games. One of the most vital things that keep the games going is the ability to collect cash turn after turn. Money is important because it buys things, and in the early stages that always becomes a high priority, possibly second only behind gathering the talents that are required to make sure the player rakes in the money more quickly. Then again that doesn't factor in some other games, such as Railroad Tycoon, where there are no talents to speak of. The short-term goal is always setting up a way to earn money that is so reliable you can leave the system running and turn your attention on other things.

gambitch [ 9:34 PM]

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Franck Lefevre is, for the moment, my favourite Frenchman. No, I haven't become gay overnight. What makes me like Monsieur Lefevre is merely the fact that he speaks Mandarin.

Mr. Lefevre teaches in L'Ecole Francaise, which literally translates to "the French school". I've never been there (I picked up my French earlier in my life, at a different school), and I have never met Mr. Lefevre. Yet for some time now I have been aware that the French are particularly interested in the Chinese language and culture. I guess they are not alone among the Europeans, it's just that I happen to actually know the French situation.

So what's the big deal about Mr. Lefevre being able to speak Mandarin and read Chinese text? Well, I'd like to say "nothing", but from this newspaper report it appears that the Chinese from Singapore are too surprised for words. Worse still, when they realize Mr. Lefevre speaks Mandarin (and speaks it very well, according to the report) the Singaporean Chinese nevertheless continue to converse with him in English. (I only wonder why none of them try to talk to him in French!)

I was told that Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, recently admitted that his insistence at maintaining the bilingualism policy may have been flawed because the average person can probably only expect to master one language in his lifetime. Well, I'm okay with that, but does that really mean the bilingualism policy was an outright flop? I recently overheard an acquaintance voice his usual grumblings about the matter (in smooth English - no real surprise to me there). I kept quiet because I was reading my book and wasn't part of the conversation anyway, but I strongly disagree with his position on the matter.

I've said it before, I'm effectively bilingual and fiercely proud of it. I thank my parents and an avid interest in my own culture for my fluency in Chinese, and I thank the education system and the local environment for allowing me to learn my English rather than let me die a death of one thousand cuts. French was difficult, but I never complained or quit the course. I'm not a natural when it comes to human languages, but I have never once believed that learning a language has to be painfully difficult. It's all about the attitude, at the end of it.

Of course, being one of the few people who know both languages well (and I have a good number of friends fitting into that category too), I find it a minor struggle sometimes trying to connect with people who aren't really excellent at either language. The thing is, I make do, and I'm not too uncomfortable doing it. There was a time when I was almost religious in correcting others' errors in language, but I've since taken a lighter approach on that matter. It's not my fault others' language standards aren't the same as mine, but to accuse it as being their fault isn't quite right either. The blame game is just too pointless and too insensitive.

That said, I have had little respect in general for people afflicted by the "banana syndrome" - yellow on the outside, white on the inside. By which I refer to Chinese who abandon their roots and pretend to be Caucasian. A poll a couple of years back indicated that a disturbingly large percentage of Singaporean Chinese youth would rather be born Caucasian than born Chinese, compared to Singaporean Malay and Indian youth. I have friends who struggle with their mother tongue, but it hasn't stopped me from being friends with them (hey, I can still speak English!). But that doesn't mean I should tolerate the Anglicization of the Chinese people.

A former journalist, writing on his observations about Singapore, noted that the preferred destination of emigrants from the little island is Australia. Apart from the fact that it's near enough and yet far enough from the island, and that the pace of life is much slower there, a common trigger for moving there is the fact that the children won't have to put up with twelve years of formal education that includes compulsory study of the mother tongue. This reason seems to outrank the fear of National Service, or state conscription of all males at age 18 for two years of military training. I don't know what's so scary about National Service, although my experience probably isn't helpful in comforting paranoid parents who have fit kids (the unfit get a much less demanding life). But more importantly, I don't see the fuss over studying what is supposed to be a language they ought to know how to speak, simply because not knowing isn't right.

I had minimal difficulty acing my Chinese classes, until I enrolled in this special elective programme to study Chinese literature. I didn't do well at the course, but I didn't care too much about that; I picked the course for the interest, not for the grades. At any rate I didn't flunk the course outright either. I should note that if I hadn't signed up for the course, I would be under no obligation to study Chinese for the final two years of my compulsory education, because my results prior to that already exempted me from that need. But I took the course because I wanted to, because I loved the language and the culture. Does that make me one of the Chinese elite? I wouldn't make such an audacious claim. But I know the experience places me somewhere above the national average.

I have seen some people who are such big bananas that they have difficulty ordering their meals in food centres. Once I went out for supper with a friend, and he wanted to order fried carrot cake (an oily, starchy local dish not to be confused with American carrot cake) but was worried whether it was vegetarian. His Mandarin was so limited he couldn't place the order himself, and I had to step in to order on his behalf (evidently, I ate something else). My simple no-fanfare demonstration of how to order food by speaking Mandarin hardly wowed my friend. Not even an "oh okay" look. Which suggests that to him, knowing Mandarin is nothing to be proud of, and conversely, not knowing it is no cause for even the slightest shame. There'd always be someone else who can do the ordering. It's like rich people who have cars but don't have a driving licence - there's always the option of hiring a chauffeur.

This is where I introduce a professor by the name of Barry Steben, who was quoted in the same newspaper report. Prof. Steben said that "if you spoke Mandarin, people look down on you as it is seen as of the lower class". But why should it be? What's so wrong with knowing Mandarin that it should be branded a lower-class language? Or is it just that there are some people out there who feel that the only way they can climb up their version of the social ladder is by disowning their own identity? That's just so pathetically sick! I don't think Prof. Steben himself despises the language - he is fluent in it. In fact, I think he finds it equally sad that the very people who are supposed to know the language because it is their mother tongue by right regard it as a shameful thing.

Cosmopolitanism is not all about becoming a fake Westerner and imbibing everything that originates from Europe and America. It's not about knowing your Pradas from your Guccis, and being able to correctly pronounce Jean Paul Gaultier, but making no effort to properly utter Rajamanickam and Jatturapattarapong. Certainly cosmopolitanism is not about trying to cosmetically make your skin as white as Nicole Kidman and your hair as bleached as Pamela Anderson, or turning your eyes glowing light green and your blood royal blue. To me, that's just trying to become a fake Westerner because it's fashionable, it's aristocratic, and it feels damn good to be someone you're not. I can say all sorts of things about people like these, but I'll just stop at one comment - they're stupid.

If you really want to be cosmopolitan, by all means go ahead and know your Anglosaxon culture, but don't forget about the Greeks and the Eastern Europeans. And while you're downing that Russian vodka, do check out Islamic Turkey and nomadic Central Asia, and swing by past South Africa and Madagascar too. Don't forget a couple of weeks in Brazil to soak in the riches of Rio, and do remember to drop by in Japan and Korea too. Not just the sightseeing spots, but remember to check out the rural parts too, yeah? Learning a little of every culture there is around, from rich to poor, from popular to exotic. Now that's a good start to true cosmopolitanism.

But cosmopolitanism is pointless if you don't even know your own mother tongue to begin with. Without a firm grounding in one's own roots, one is little more than a wandering orphaned ghost with no place to call home, an international tourist who knows not where one belongs. Only when you know your own language and your own culture can you start appreciating the differences between different cultures, and while you see the beauty and charms of cultures foreign to your race, you can turn the mirror around and learn a thing or two about your own culture too. Thus can your love for your own culture as well as others' grow.

An idealistic cry from a youth wearing fogged-up glasses? Maybe. But at least I can come up with a reasonable translation or at least a paraphrase of all this in Mandarin. Some people will just be happy they can place their orders in a food centre!

gambitch [ 3:33 AM]

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

With no action on the pitch until Thursday, and with golf not playing until that day either, it is finally possible to put sports aside and go back to talking about comics (yay!).

I find it weird trying to recall what made me pick up the comic Love Hina. Perhaps it was the fact I watched a few episodes of the anime (dubbed in Mandarin, of course - see my previous post on comics for details). Perhaps it was the fact I chanced upon this series via the Internet when I bumped into fan-created Flash games. Perhaps it was the fact that I'm an unattached, unattractive loser in life. Whatever. The point is that Love Hina entered my consciousness in a way that can be summed up as "strange".

I've been luckless in the relationships department, and a large part of it has to do with the fact that my interaction with girls on a personal level has been just about minimal. So it interests me to read about a guy (Urashima Keitaro) who in other ways has been a total loser. Flunking the Tokyo University (Toudai in Japanese) entrance exams for two straight years isn't a great thing, plus he doesn't seem to be very good at coping with the opposite sex, or at clearing up misunderstandings (which he tends to get into).

Then again, to me the story isn't so much about Keitaro alone, as it is about all the characters. Keitaro is just one of them, though he is in a way a very lucky one. As a male I can't help but think about what I would do if I was there. No, I don't think I'll be in a hurry to try to date the girls. Remember, I'd be living with them day in, day out. I have to do something apart from actively trying to get a date. (Which is why I found the Flash game I saw a bit unreal - it's a dating game where the player, as Keitaro, doesn't seem to do anything else.)

It must be a strange experience living with people you don't really know, and even the fact that you're doing a job (Keitaro's grandmother appointed him to take over when she left the place to tour the world) doesn't help much to relieve that. There are two things a person in that situation can do: He can turn stone-cold and do the job, maintaining minimal contact with others, which will make that person unpopular quickly but keep him focused on the job. Or he can interact with the other people and see what comes out of it. I know I'd tend to end up doing the former. The right distractions are there - books, music and computer games but to name a few. Plus I do have my own social inadequacies. As for Keitaro, it's a bit tougher to tell; it would be hard to say he actively interacted with anyone else, since he and Naru were in the same cram class by coincidence, Mitsune was essentially looking to fleece money off him, Kaolla was just insanely fun-loving, and Motoko for the most part just kept away from him early on, regarding him as an enemy for "doing improper things" (the result of those misunderstandings).

I deliberately left out Shinobu in the previous paragraph, and there's a reason. Of the five girls who stayed at the inn-turned-dormitory (excluding Mutsumi), Shinobu was probably the first to talk to Keitaro, and she became a significant reason Keitaro picked up the pieces and stayed on at Hinata-sou in the first place. Of the five girls, Shinobu pips Naru as my favourite girl. She really can cook, a skill really rated by everyone but her, which suggests she is either plain modest or she doesn't realize the importance of what she's good at. She's also incredibly cute in the silly kind of way, when it's painfully obvious she has a crush on Keitaro. Personality-wise she can be described as perpetually overcast with clouds of a disconcerting, but not horribly dark, grey, the sort that could always use some consolation and cheering up, but not so sad that she kills the mood. Strange as it sounds, girls like her are valuable as a friend, because ironically she serves as a constant reminder that life is really alright and there's always room for a little sunshine to beam in through the clouds. It's a bit funny at the end of the series to see her all grown up and having a drop-dead gorgeous figure, because my impression of Shinobu stops at age 13 or 14, and it's hard having to deal with the notion of time actually moving in this manga series.

I'm not saying my life is anything like Shinobu's, but I can feel, in parts, what it's like to be her. My own personality is, by my own admission, horribly dark. When I show up, the met station warns everyone to bring along their umbrellas. Now that's dark. From my perspective Shinobu would almost represent fair weather! She was so fragile you could just feel you need to give her that tender loving care that would give her strength. Then again, I'm not really capable of that. Nevertheless, Shinobu, with her signature "Cabot" pinafore, remains the character I like the most. Anyone with a girlfriend like her would be an incredibly blessed man.

Not that that should be an excuse for me to overlook the other girls in Hinata-sou, and most obviously Naru, who is supposed to be the female lead character. Naru is physically attractive when she doesn't put on her cram glasses (strange we never get a peek of her contact lens case - she must have one!), but her personality is something else altogether. She likes punching Keitaro halfway across town for accidentally stumbling into the hot springs or resting his hand on the wrong places after tumbling over something, and then she has to go to such an extent just to justify giving him a Valentine's Day chocolate.

Towards the tail end of the story, the problem between Keitaro and Naru was no longer how Keitaro could come to terms with liking Naru and forgetting about the childhood promise (which, as people who finished reading the whole story would understand, doesn't really matter anyway), but Naru having the courage to say she actually liked him. The scene where she finally admitted it was a classic - Keitaro faces mortal danger as he falls off a cliff, or something like that, and Naru, cowering with fear that she might lose him permanently, jumps to join him. Only after that does everything fall into place, and to use a cliched line, "and they lived happily ever after". Not that that stopped her from punching him senseless every now and then, of course!

Motoko strikes me as an odd character, though I see a little of myself in her. She is proper and disciplined in her will to master the sword. Perhaps she regards the world around her with a hint of scorn, or mere disdain. Certainly she didn't think favourably of Keitaro early on, who she saw as a lying, perverted two-time university flop. It is thus perhaps poetic justice that late into the story, she failed her first attempt to make Toudai as well, but I don't mean in any way to say "serves her right". Despite the fact that she leaves her hair long for most of the comic series, it is easy to forget that she is a girl, because most of the things she does are un-girl-like. She is traditional, but there is no suggestion that she knows ikebana until the last two chapters, when she is already grown up and studying law in Toudai. Most of the time she binds her chest in tape, as I assume is the normal way it used to be for girls training in the way of the sword.

She's not really an ice-queen as much as she seems to be a disciplined, unbreakable swordsmaster. Her air of invincibility is only broken by two events - an effort to put her in more feminine clothes, and the appearance of the turtle Tama-chan. In the first case she appears hopelessly uncomfortable to the point of embarrassment, and in the second case she is plain scared of turtles. Sure, guys get scared of things too, but the point is Tama-chan finally shows she's not really that invincible after all.

Motoko's love for Keitaro is extremely subtle, and only very late on does she come to terms with it. Even then, the way she behaves doesn't really show it, apart from that one swordfight scene. I find it difficult to imagine her dating Keitaro, or any other guy for that matter - what would they do? Movies? Coffee? Or a spar in the dojo? The possibilities are intriguing.

It's hard to say very much about Mitsune and Kaolla, because for different reasons these are the foil characters who may have their own distinctive personalities, but they mostly interact with the other girls, or they don't deal with Keitaro in any involved way. Mitsune's simply an alcoholic and horse-race gambler who is otherwise generally sane and does little else, while Kaolla bounds around figuratively as much as literally throughout the entire comic, with the odd chapter showing a different side of her that doesn't really leave a big impression. Neither is a conventional friend, though Mitsune is best friends with Naru for good reason. It's hard to imagine Mitsune being involved in a soppy high-schoolish romantic relationship with flowers and candlelight dinners (the feeling, not the cost - I'd swear Mitsune would happily show up at an expensive candlelight dinner at a posh restaurant precisely because it's, well, expensive and posh). Kaolla on the other hand has a personality that never quite grows up, so any mature side to her would be really hard to find.

I still don't know what to make of Mutsumi, even after finishing the comic. In the front half of the series she stands out because of her clumsiness and her weak constitution. Of course she also stands out for being good-looking and for her insane love of both watermelons and hot springs, but the first two parts were a major part of her character make-up. Which is why I guess I wasn't really satisfied by the creator's handling of her after she entered Toudai (together with Naru and Keitaro, of course). She just became this relatively forgettable foil character ranking alongside Mitsune and Kaolla. Somehow this should have been expected, since the tensions involving her, Naru and Keitaro were mostly resolved by then, and the story was just crawling on and waiting for a conclusion. All the same, it just seems like she was a character whose job was done way too early. Not even a few more fainting scenes that would have caused a bit of panic. A real waste, actually.

Mutsumi would make a nice friend, or even girlfriend, simply because she seems to understand people really well. Her perceptiveness is so sharp it has the potential to frighten, but she is also disarmingly optimistic and kind. Built into all that is the way she just seems to be such a klutz without either looking like a clown or drawing ridicule. To top all that, she's so smart she's scary, without ever showing it. This is not by any means your average nerd!

Love Hina is a great comic in terms of light reading, when I just want to put my brain to rest and appreciate life. It's typical of the romantic comedy genre with a few out-of-this-world scenarios that "just can't be real but nobody minds", and there is never any sustained tragedy even though a few moments of emotional tension can be found from time to time. Sure, I find Shinobu slightly pitiful for her unrequited crush, topped off by her active involvement in pairing Keitaro up with Naru - now that's sacrifice for you. But the series ends with nothing but warmth, and it's just so easy to believe that everything will work out for all the girls and they'll just find the perfect lifestyle for each of them, with perhaps a boyfriend each will eventually marry thrown in.

Which of course leaves me wondering - will I ever get a turn? I mean, if Keitaro can find the girl of his dreams, surely I can't be a worse loser? But I wouldn't be able to answer that question now, would I?

gambitch [ 1:33 AM]

Monday, June 28, 2004

Euro 2004 has produced some really fantastic results. From a viewer's perspective, this has been the attack of the minnows. Which is fine, I would admit.

Italy, Spain and France all fell by the wayside. The Italians deserved their loss because of poor tactics and bad form. The Spanish exit was painful, because it all went down to their draw with Greece. The loss against Portugal was costly, but really they should have beaten Greece and make the last game less important than it turned out to be. As for France, they qualified well but got knocked out through poor play in the quarter-final. Take nothing away from Greece, but France missed Vieira on the day.

The lineup for the last four looks curious. Portugal vs Holland and the Czech Republic vs Greece. Of the four, Holland seem to be the only big name left, even though I doubted their chances at the start of the tournament. Portugal and the Czechs are both strong, and Greece... Well, here's my look at the issue.

Portugal vs Holland is a tricky one, because both sides are such great attacking talents, but both are not known for their defensive strength. Frank de Boer's injury against Sweden may not be too serious, but can Stam and Heitinga hold up in his absence? Even if they can, given how badly Pauleta is playing for Portugal, can the wingplay of Figo and Ronaldo be controlled? On the other hand, Arjan Robben is becoming a major revelation for the Dutch, and Andy van der Meyde is also playing well in the attack. On reputation I'd tip the Dutch to hold out (finally!) after overcoming their penalty shootout hoodoo, but the Portuguese do have advantages of their own.

As for Greece vs the Czechs, you'd fancy Greece to do well after writing such massive miracles. Funnily enough, I think their luck will run out against the Czechs for a very strange reason. Look at how Greece have progressed this tournament. They beat Portugal and France, and drew the Spanish, but lost to Russia, even though they did net in the one goal that mattered in that last game. Of the four opponents, Russia are the least known, yet the Greeks lost. This suggests one thing: Otto Rehhagel is well prepared against well-known sides, because he can easily gain access to such information to plot his tactics. It's against the sides he can't get info on that Greece fare less well. The Czechs are good, they are of good repute, but they're not as big as the sides Greece managed to overcome. Can the Greeks pull off another big one and make the final? I don't think so, but I'd be happy to be wrong. Even then, the Czechs are a good side who equally deserves to go through.

It's shaping up to be a very interesting tournament indeed. Let's see who makes the final.

gambitch [ 7:35 PM]

Sunday, June 27, 2004

A good friend of mine occasionally invites me for dinners at MOS Burger, and one of our favourite topics of discussion over dinner and iced milk tea is football. (So what else is new?)

I'm willing to admit that my football knowledge is not as good as his. This is a combination of a few factors, the two most significant being that he has access to cable television and I don't, and that he is a keener watcher of the Italian Serie A and the Spanish Primera Liga. I can't even say I'm a regular watcher of the English Premiership now, because it's not really available on terrestrial television. What this means is that my friend gets to watch more football than I do, when he can squeeze out some time and put aside his reading. Despite these differences, we are bonded by one common fact - both of us are firm supporters of Manchester United.

Despite my e-mail address, my favourite player among the current squad is actually Roy Keane. It's been said so often before, but it bears repeating - Keano is the single most important man in the United squad since Eric Cantona. Just as Eric made the team click, Keano wills the lads on with his infinite drive and hunger. The fact that he has never been considered for a European or World Footballer of the Year award should be perceived as a great insult to those awards.

What's so great about the Irish midfielder? To answer that, I think we must first look at the kinds of midfielders there are. There are hard tacklers, and Keano fits that description easily. There are playmakers, the ones who orchestrate the attack, and the classic examples of today would be Juventus' Nedved and Real Madrid's Zidane. There are inspirational wingers who thrill with their runs - think Giggs, Ronaldo or Monaco's Jerome Rothen. Then you have the masters of beautiful passes like Beckham, who are also weapons in their own right. People appreciate the playmakers and the wingers, but hard-tackling midfielders don't usually register high on people's minds nearly as easily. Which is a bit of a shame.

Is Keane the best of his kind across the world? I have often believed it to be true - he is just that little bit better than Patrick Vieira, though I may be biased. But my friend recently told me about this Spanish midfielder who he believes is even better - Ruben Baraja of Valencia. In short, according to my friend, where Keane knows how to tackle and win the ball, and has a decent short passing game, Baraja adds to that immense firepower from range. He even takes free kicks for Valencia and scores a good number of them. In fact, just about the only thing he can't do is cross the ball, but the club has other talents for that.

I must say that the thought of a Keane who can score with free kicks is mouth-watering. In fact that's almost a complete midfielder! So yes, it's pretty frightening just to think about it. But would I trade Baraja for Keano? Not a chance.

Some of you who are not so into football might ask "But why?". Well, it's great to have a player in your engine room who can score pretty well, but Baraja is a superb midfielder, and that's about it. What makes Keano bigger than Baraja is the attitude he carries with him. Manchester United is his heart and soul, and he gives everything to this club. That's why he's such a great captain - because he is United personified at his combative best.

Anyone who has seen him play in the Treble season of 1999 would understand. 2-0 down at Juventus' Delle Alpi within 10 minutes, it looked like there was no way United could overcome the Italians and book a trip to Barcelona. Then Keano put a header past Angelo Peruzzi. And then got booked for a foul on Zidane (who was then playing for Juventus), which meant he would not play in the final. But he didn't care, and willed his teammates on with his infinite energy and fierce strength. United won the game and the tie afterwards with goals from Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, which sent the team into the final, an epic comeback game against Germany's Bayern Munich. But the ferocious and unselfish Keano was the reason the rest of them even got to play that match in the first place. That's Roy Keane for you.

Keano is talented, no, make that very talented. He may not be the best midfielder the world has to offer, or even the best among his kind, but he makes up for it with his enormous heart. To me, that is the story of Roy Keane, captain of Manchester United - a man who makes up for his deficiencies by giving his all and refusing to content himself with being second best. He is not your caricature-type footballer, who seems to play the game for fun and profit, switching clubs as soon as his agent manages to secure an even more lucrative contract than the one he is milking off now. Instead, he focuses on loyalty to whoever he is serving now, giving everything he has for the cause, and ironically by his actions fully justifies any and every thought of making him the highest-paid player on the club roster (which, if I remember correctly, he is).

So would I trade him for Baraja? No way. Yes, if I were the boss at United, I might buy Baraja as a back-up, but there is no way Baraja would content himself at warming the substitutes' bench and waiting for a chance to replace Keano, and there just aren't enough spots on a teamsheet to put both Keano and Baraja in the same team. It'd be a dream - two of the world's most combative midfielders lining up alongside each other, threatening to win the ball and thunder it home at every opportunity. It's not like United never did this before, mind you. Nicky Butt has lined up as Keano's sidekick in numerous games in the past when the need was to defend and control the midfield. But this can't happen every day.

As a footballer and as a person, I try to model myself after Keane. It's not the easiest thing to do; I'm nowhere near as talented or as fit as he is, and I'm an anomaly on a street football court where everyone else is a fluent attacker and I'm the most defensive-minded man of the lot. But I try to defend like a wall of steel, and considering my deficiencies I'm not faring too badly in that regard. There's always room for improvement, of course - I've had my share of being at fault for conceding goals because I was too slow to react and stick a leg out. Not that that stops me from trying to do better.

And that's the mentality I try to maintain when I get to be a leader. The only problem with doing that is that not everybody thinks he or she is playing for Manchester United. Even at United you occasionally get the odd player who is just there to have some fun, who isn't necessarily thinking about trying his very best to push himself to a level where he can become a first-team regular. The difference is that at a football club like Manchester United, the people who don't have that competitive attitude can be dumped to a smaller club, because there will always be enough people who will want to put on the red shirt and fight for its cause. At some other places, where it's tough enough just to stay alive and running, everyone is at everyone else's mercy.

Leading such teams can be a tough proposition. From time to time such a leader might try to do something and raise the bar a little. He or she might say something like "We can do better than this. There are bigger ambitions we can push to realize." And then he or she might spend countless nights thinking about how to bring everyone up to the next level. Sometimes the thinking doesn't conjure up the ideas. Sometimes it does, but those tricks don't work. But every now and then the unlucky man with the thankless job gets strange stares from his colleagues, stares that say "What is he trying to do?" or "Isn't it fine that things are the way they are now?". Every now and then there will be people even among the ranks who, in short, don't get it.

And sometimes the man, exhausted by it all, may just have enough time to play with this thought: Between him and his colleagues, who's the stupid one, really?

gambitch [ 1:25 AM]


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