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Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Paedophilia. The act of committing sex crimes against children. Unnatural. Perverted. Atrocious. Sinful. Yet is it so simple, so unilateral, so easily classifiable? Are the roles so straightforward, so compartmentalized? Is the child an unaware victim, or does the child know what is happening? And if the child knows, is it a case of unwilling and forced activity, or could there be a hint of desire arising from the affections that come from such a relationship?

I went to catch the reprise of Fundamentally Happy, a show I had missed last year because of bad timing and straightforward forgetfulness on my part. Seeing that it is showing for a second run, I would not countenance missing it a second time, especially after the rave reviews it got following its premiere. I may have been uncomfortable due to my state of illness, but it would not be enough to stop me from watching this show.

Eric, a 30-year-old social worker, returns to the neighbourhood where he grew up, a quiet estate in eastern Singapore. There he found the old house where Habiba, a Malay-Muslim woman, had lived and still lives with her family. Surprised and delighted to see Habiba still living there, Eric, who often visited the house in his childhood, paid a courtesy call to an old neighbour.

Yet it would be no simple courtesy call. Eric and Habiba spoke fondly of the old times, when he used to come to this very house and play. Habiba made some food for Eric to enjoy, even as she shared with Eric her current work in a madrasah - a traditional school attended by students of Islam as an alternative to regular mainstream education - and talked about how to keep the madrasah in touch with the needs of the times. The conversation is mundane in parts, but enjoyable, and the food is homecooked and lovely. But then Eric found some excuse to hurriedly leave, only to be caught in the rain and brought back into the house by a chasing Habiba.

Which is where the secrets, together with the rain, all come pouring down. Eric, as a young boy, had made sexual contact with Habiba's husband. In other words, Eric was a participant in an act of paedophilia. And for the first time, he came out of the closet on it.

Eric was an expert on paedophilia as an academic subject. He had studied it in the course of getting his degree in social work. He knew all his aloof academic terms, big words such as 'perpetrator' and the like. And now he wanted to come back and confront his demons, demons he didn't know were demons all those years ago when the acts themselves took place. He felt abused, victimized, shocked at his lack of awareness that what had happened between him and Habiba's husband was sinful and outright wrong. He felt tainted against his better knowledge and better will.

Or was he? (It's worth a thought, actually. The moral criminality of paedophilia is in itself an artificialized external construct, imposed upon human beings so as to keep the moral code consistent. Yet what did the morals-free human heart think? In its rawest form, could it be that Eric's heart was, well, fundamentally happy?)

A police report was made. Cops came and searched the house for further evidence of paedophilic tendencies or activities, such as traces of child porn in Habiba's laptop (which she used for work). Habiba and her family (they have children now) were inconvenienced by the police work, including having her husband go to take statements with the police. The annoyance with the police work messing up their lives turns into anger at Eric for making the accusation, a simmering displeasure at how Eric now seemed to be criminalizing the sex crime offender and victimizing the family as a direct consequence. Eric, in seeking what he felt was justice, was now seen to be harming the family of the very man he had once had sexual relations with.

And of course, the classic blaming of the victim. Habiba came right out and questioned if Eric had actually liked the sexual experience himself, even thinking that Eric may have, in his own ways, consciously or otherwise, seduced her husband. It was an accusation for which Eric could not find a total refutation. The truth was, he did like it, feeling the closeness and affection from an uncle who was almost like family to him. He was like any other uncle who played with children in the neighbourhood, doting on them with seemingly benign eyes and smiles. The horns of the devil? Nowhere in sight.

Did Eric and Habiba's husband know what they were doing? Perhaps, in a hazy manner. But before anyone thinks to condemn them, both were victims in their own ways, not of each other, but of weaknesses in the heart. Eric yearned for affection, more than his own family could provide. He wanted to be loved and cared for, and he would respond to anyone who showed that love and care. Like the neighbourly aunt Habiba. Like her husband. It was a weakness in Eric. Similarly, Habiba's husband had his own weaknesses too. His relationship with Habiba had changed in subtle ways by then. He loved Habiba as his wife, but things between them were not that simple. He too needed care and affection.

The end result... Well, you can pretty much guess it.

Society is fast to condemn paedophilia as a sickness of the mind by the adult. The adult is slammed with labels of being demented, sick or perverted, and the children universally considered victims of this disgusting abomination, as if they were random targets who were simply minding their own business but found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. But paedophilia, especially repeat paedophilia between two parties, is not theft or robbery; such a treatment of the issue ignores the complexities of human relationships, the very dynamics that keep this unusual bond going. No, the reality is often much less simple than we believe it to be, a belief that is often premised on a self-protective denial that would prefer to find the easiest explanation that avoids staring the realities in the face.

Yet this play explores it, peeling the layers away one by one until we get a full exposition. And that is what happens between Eric and Habiba. Over three visits, they learnt the truth, explored it, confronted it and came to their final conclusions. Habiba left her husband (not entirely a surprise) but gradually came to terms with Eric. Eric himself showed a complex of emotions, no one dominant over the others, a mixture of remorse, relief and forgiveness, but to name the simplest three. Habiba's husband, who is never actually seen throughout the play, will doubtless have his own set of emotions to deal with.

I thought the play was well-paced, well-crafted and in-depth in its treatment of the issue of paedophilia, and was excellent at provoking very deep levels of thought. The production was pretty good as a whole, and the actors did a very good job in their interpretation of the lines. One can only hope there will be a third run for this, so that I could share this experience with more friends.

On a side note, the director for this play used to teach me when I was still a schoolboy. I saw him at the play, of course, although I didn't actually go over to say hi to him - he seemed busy. But he has certainly aged quite a bit. You expect it, of course, since it has been over ten years since I last saw him. But there was something that grabbed me when I realized how his scalp was thinning where it once held a thick crown of hair. That's when I realized how many years have elapsed, and how much he has aged. Yet his passion for theatre still remains, quietly burning underneath.

Of course, it does make me think what I'll look like 20 years from now. Or maybe that's something I really shouldn't be thinking about yet.

gambitch [ 12:23 AM]

Friday, February 09, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith, she of Guess? jeans modelling fame and gold-digging infamy, died earlier today.

Smith was very well-known around the world when she did the ads for Guess?, and it also helped her reputation quite a bit that she was a Playboy Playmate. Always does something to boost your portfolio, doesn't it? But I don't remember her as someone who is considered a role model of any kind for young girls. People didn't mind too much about being the next Claudia Schiffer, or Linda Evangelista, or, to use more current examples, Heidi Klum. (I'm still a bit doubtful on Tyra Banks.) But Smith was not up there with them.

Mostly, that's because Smith was seen as too much of an aggressive attention-grabber and gold-digger. Marrying an octogenarian - only to see him die a month later - hardly helped her reputation. The protracted legal battle that followed regarding the old man's estate certainly made sure Smith stayed in the news, although her subsequent attempt to create a reality TV show was a serious bomb. At least I've actually heard of Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie's world-renowned effortless attempt at being whining, spoilt bimbos.

Still, I was actually a little surprised to hear of Anna Nicole Smith dying just like that. It's a little like how I was surprised when I heard about Gianni Versace's death some years back. Deaths like these are surprising, although in a few seconds that surprise would be replaced by intrigue. Did Smith die of the high life? Too many so-called entertainment people die of that kind of thing. We'll only be able to find out from an autopsy.

Some people die of really tragic, unfortunate causes, like this Taiwanese actress whose car got banged in the back while travelling to southern Taiwan. That's tragic and unfortunate because it wasn't her own doing. The bloody driver should be found and appropriately prosecuted. But some other deaths are self-inflicted.

In other news, after days of taking my own over-the-counter medicine, I realized my sore throat was not getting any better. Which meant I had to go see my doctor. The reason was quite simple: I reckoned I actually needed antibiotics after all. So off to the doctor's I went, and it turns out I also had inflammation in the aural canal. So I got this bottle of ear drops.

Now, this was the first time I had ever got a bottle of ear drops. And while the instructions on how to apply the medicine were clear - two drops of the substance in the ear, and allow it to flow - in practice it gets rather uncomfortable. You see, getting the medicine to flow properly into the inner ear is not exactly that straightforward. You know how they usually tell you to swallow or gulp once should you experience discomfort in the ear when flying? It supposedly helps to get rid of that discomfort. Well, the same trick does not work with ear drops.

So I kept getting this really annoying feeling in the affected ear (the left one; my right ear was fine), like there's water in it or something. Those of you who go swimming without wearing the elastic caps can understand. Problem is, I'm not supposed to tilt my head to get the water to come out, because that'd defeat the whole purpose of applying the medicine in the first place.

The good news is that I applied this medicine while lying in bed, and I was going to go to sleep earlier. In fact, I just woke up not long ago. The bad news is that this medicine is supposed to be used three times a day, which means I've to apply it again shortly afterwards before I go out to catch a show later. It's going to be another round of discomfort...

Oh, the show? I'll fill you in on that later. Until then.

gambitch [ 5:54 PM]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

And on today's menu... Two Of Us, a collection of little playlets that explore various interactions and dynamics between two people. It was, overall, very nice, with just about no aspect of disappointment as far as I'm concerned.

There were several parts going into the Two Of Us collection, each of them not necessarily related in any way to the rest. Three of those parts were broken up into continuous narratives that thread back and forth throughout the evening. One of them was actually a mostly off-stage piece called Telephone, where the group explored the world of answering machines, voice messages and failed phone calls. That one was in small samplings, so I won't explore it much.

The second continuous narrative was basically a mime-type performance involving two clowns, which of course was entitled Clown (duh!). That's mostly to warm the audience up and get them comfortable, so the clowns did all sorts of things involving pinching each other, playing with ropes and beach balls, and other things like that. Throughout the whole thing, it was actually truly hilarious, so it served its purpose well.

The one continuous narrative that was a full theatrical narrative was entitled Twins, and it dealt with the interactions between a pair of Siamese twins who basically can't stand each other. We see the way they live, how one of them can't stand cigar smoke and the other can't stand water - yet that's exactly what the other twin loves. We see how they struggle to have breakfast, and the usual problems of a pair of selfish Siamese twins.

Somewhere in the course of the first part of the narrative, the twins read a newspaper article that says doctors have now found a way to surgically separate Siamese twins. In their excitement they write to the doctors to ask for themselves to be separated. In the second part they receive a letter in response, where they are told that it is indeed possible for them to be surgically separated, but then there is a high probability that one of the two twins will not survive the operation. They mull over this - mostly in their selfish modes as each is confident of his own survival at the other's expense. See? The brothers hate each other!

Or so it seems, until the final instalment comes. The Siamese twins are in bed, as they always are. Siamese twins need to sleep too, you know. Except one of the two twins wakes up, but realizes the other one isn't waking up. It's not entirely clear whether the other twin died in his sleep, but it certainly seems to be the case. The awake twin tries to wake the other one up, telling him "Don't play anymore... please..." but he doesn't respond.

It's at that moment that you realize how, as much as two people joined together (literally as much as symbolically) bicker so pettily with each other and seem to have a hard time standing each other, there can be that moment where a huge sense of loss overwhelms them when they are suddenly away from each other. It's that connection, that link that you refuse to acknowledge on the surface, but when it comes to it, you know you're bound together and it sort of means something to you.

That was pretty thought-provoking.

There were also a couple of other stories thrown into the mix. Some of them were more for laughs and to keep us chilling out, like the story on two smokers' desire to quit and how tempting it was for them to just give up. But there was one particularly good story entitled Cat, that spoke of the relationship between a man and his pet cat. The man was a typical stay-alone office worker, living in his own quiet apartment that isn't exactly the most dressed-up bachelor's pad. All he has for company was this cat.

So one fine day, as usual, the man came home late from his work and fed his cat, and played with it until it scratched and bit the owner - not very fiercely, but in a way that basically didn't make the owner happy at all. So the man basically put the cat away and made the cat a bit upset. Then came the bit where the man basically ranted at the cat and said the cat should have known full well he didn't like it when the cat bit and scratched. Throughout this part, the cat basically looked like any other cat which has been living with the man for quite a while. (Good acting by the actor, of course, showing all the cat-like behavioral traits.)

Then the cat spoke. And man and cat talked about what kind of life the cat was leading at home, doing nothing other than to wait for the man to come home every single day so that they could play. The man shared his frustration over the problems in life and how difficult it is to relate them to the cat. The cat listened and talked back. The whole dynamic was actually pretty curious - no, intriguing - and I was actually quite drawn into it. Then the whole thing ended in a perhaps none-too-surprising manner, as the mat slowly crawled into the cat's lap and the two switched roles.

Nice touch, actually.

It was a really good performance as a whole, and obviously I loved it a lot. Sometimes it's the smaller plays like this that actually engage in very close, personal ways, more than the big productions that simply overwhelm you.

I really liked this one. I hope to see these guys again soon. They've got another show planned, apparently, but they're running it in Hong Kong. I don't know whether I've the time and the money for it, but it's worth a try.

gambitch [ 11:49 PM]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I seem to be feeling pretty sick. I'm not sure what the problem is, but the illness might be a good thing.

A few guys were nice enough to call and ask what happened to me. I appreciate their concern, but for now I can only tell them I fell ill.

Of course, that's far from all. But I don't want them to know.

Maybe I'll just try taking some medicine. And get a good load of sleep.

gambitch [ 8:47 PM]

Monday, February 05, 2007

This was one of those days where I did many things. Come to think of it, I see it as something of a minor achievement that I managed to pack so much entertainment into one day. That said, I loved everything I was doing, so that presented no problems to me.

It started in the afternoon, really, because I slept the morning off. Yeah, I know. But I was fine with that. I had this show I wanted to watch in the afternoon, and the whole trouble of booking my place for it and all proved really worth it. As it was, it wasn't really a show, just a dramatic reading for an as-yet-unfinalized play script by this Australian law professor. He was basically working on something about Ho Chi Minh, and more pertinently, the famous period he had spent in Hong Kong while detained and on trial, all this while fighting attempts to get him deported to French Indochina, where he would have faced mortal danger. Then there was the part of his life where he was an old man in liberated Vietnam.

It's an unfinished product, and we were made aware of that, to the point where all of those who attended (there weren't that many) were given copies of the draft script. It was supposed to have been a dramatic reading of the entire thing, which was a bit long. But eventually we settled for a dramatic reading of the first act - the Hong Kong part - before we adjourned for a little session of tea and doughnuts.

In short, the people who were involved in the tea and doughnuts thing were the playwright, the lone actor (it's meant to be a one-actor play), the Hong Kong Fringe Club person who helped liaise the whole thing, a travelling poet, a young local stage actor, a historian, this other person whose occupation I forget, and me. It was actually a bit surreal, because I hadn't really expected this. But as the tea and doughnuts went around, we basically talked about the script, what we felt about it, how we could perhaps refine it, and things like that. So before I knew it, I was in some small way getting involved in the creative process of this play.

All of us exchanged e-mail addresses with the playwright, who is bringing his work back to Australia to rework. If all goes well, he said, he may be able to publish the play and have it staged in Hong Kong as early as July or thereabouts. If it's well-received there, he may bring it here for us as well. I certainly hope it turns out well, because I probably won't have the time or the money to watch it in Hong Kong.

Anyway, after that, I headed down to Chinatown, because it's Chinese New Year soon and nothing beats checking out the Chinese New Year market. Not all that impressive, in a way, although things are generally keeping up with how they were last year. It's certainly pretty crowded, but there were more onlookers than actual buyers. That was really one area of disappointment, if I am to be honest about it. But then I found something else interesting to do, which occupied the majority of my evening there.

After that was finished, it was time for a bit of cola, and maybe a bit of gin. As it happened, I just plonked myself down and watched some television while I was there. Not that much to see on the big screen, although it was nice to see some of the pictures. I just decided to have some time to myself and get a few things out of my system.

Okay, so the boys did it. Good for them.

Not that I care that much, in a way. I was out of it halfway, after all.

Where do they go from here? I don't know.

I'm more concerned about where we can go from here.

Can we go somewhere?

gambitch [ 2:24 AM]

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Love is a many-splendored thing...

Well I've never actually caught the movie (and I do wonder whether I can even find it today), but I was at this jazz performance earlier in the evening where this was the title piece.

It has been a few years since I did some proper outdoor live jazz. I still remember the Jazz Festival a few years back that was graciously sponsored by Heineken. I loved it, of course. Was there then with a couple of friends, and he enjoys some acid jazz himself.

So I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity to catch me some live jazz when this came along. And it's brought here by a pretty good Hong Kong swing-and-jazz band known as the Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra. Most of the leading guys in this operation are on the senior side, but jazz of the more classic variety comes out pretty well that way, with all these guys dressed in different forms of black, be it shirts and ties, jackets, or just a simple black T-shirt. After all, rich tuxedo black is the perfect colour for jazz.

And then there's a bit of the singing element too, where of course there was the title song from Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing. A few of the more notable pieces performed include the theme from Black Orpheus, Cantonese favourite Shanghai Bund and Teresa Teng's Chinese classic The Moon Represents My Heart. Every one of them was a lovely performance.

There were no rows of seats. There didn't need to be. A couple of arbitrarily-placed benches, a few tables for the wine-sippers, plenty of soft and luscious grass, that's all we needed for seating room. That's the spirit of outdoor jazz, where we simply have an environment that's comfortable rather than contrived. Comfort's the theme of the night, after all.

And when the singing came to a stop and the band guys took over, it was fantastic. I just love the big band feel when it comes to jazz, especially outdoor jazz. A bass and a couple of saxophones doesn't do poorly, but when you have an entire band, it just greatly enhances the richness of the music, and you get a few very nice fancy little tricks along the way.

Oh, did I mention that a bunch of Jitterbugs were around? Oh man, did they love it to have jazz music to listen to and have fun dancing to! Be it couples of groups of eight, the beauty of big band jazz is how amenable it is to spontaneous Jitterbugs-style dancing, and these guys probably know it pretty well. Even the old man leading the orchestra was moved to comment that he loved having people dance to the music, because it's totally in line with the spirit of great jazz music, especially the big band type. I can so picture how people used to dance to jazz music in lounges back in the rich 60s or 70s.

If there are two things I want to learn now, one is playing a jazz instrument, and the other? Being a Jitterbug!

gambitch [ 12:04 AM]


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