gambitch - now available in blue Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
"Those fish in the river below this bridge, they must be happy." "You are not the fish, so how do you know that they are happy?" "You are not me, so how would you know that I don't know that they are happy?"
Above is a well-known exchange between the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zi (or Chuang Tzu to some) and a companion, as they looked down from a stone bridge into the river it spanned. While what Zhuang Zi said certainly made for a slick argument, it was a fair demonstration of how the self, being inhabited in one body and possessing the sentience of only one entity, could not fully appreciate the experiences of another entity simply because the two were not one and the same. The other famous story involving Zhuang Zi spoke of him dreaming of being a butterfly, and wondered if it was possible that it was really a butterfly dreaming of being him.
Confusing? Maybe. But Zhuang Zi was known to be one of the famous philosopher-scholars of a long-ago era, standing side by side with the likes of Confucius and Lao Tzu. And, as with all great Chinese philosopher-scholars, it was a requirement, albeit an unwritten one, for subsequent generations of Chinese to revere and respect him, placing him only below the gods.
Which then makes it interesting for me to see a vastly different portrayal of this great philosopher-scholar in the operatic production Testing The Wife!, which I caught this afternoon. Different in ways that provoke a good amount of thought, to be sure. Not to mention it being a very enjoyable experience, coming in touch with a semi-modernized representation of traditional operatic theatre.
The story has it that Zhuang Zi, while touring around one day (as is the wont of these philosopher-types), comes upon a young widow who is weeping as she fans the tomb of her recently-deceased husband. Curious, he asks the widow why she is doing this, and the widow explains that the husband had bound her to the promise not to love another man until the soil around his tomb was dry. Zhuang Zi comes to lament the fickle-mindedness of a woman's love once her man had died, notwithstanding the widow's explanation that the move to marry another was partly to alleviate the burden of debt her husband and herself had fallen into.
So Zhuang Zi goes home and talks to his wife, Madam Tian, about what he saw, and Tian says she would never do such a thing, that she would be true to her husband Zhuang Zi even if he should die before her. Zhuang Zi does not believe this, yet Tian is indignant that, as a woman who has read a few books of virtues herself, she will be able to do it. Sounds pretty fair to me, a typical response when your fidelity to your spouse is questioned.
Zhuang Zi then comes up with this idea of testing his wife by pretending to die suddenly, and then re-presenting himself as another man, a young, handsome prince from the Kingdom of Chu. In his new guise, Zhuang Zi acts flirtatiously towards Madam Tian, who does not recognize him, and before long, Madam Tian's heart is moved.
The 'prince' then pretends to fall into this terrible illness, which his attendant says can only be cured by forcing him to consume the brain of a recently-deceased man (preferably with Chinese wine). Out of desperation, Madam Tian pleads the forgiveness of her husband, who she believes to be dead, and hacks the tomb open with an axe. Just then, Zhuang Zi jumps out as himself, alive and clearly well. Madam Tian, shocked to learn of the entire ruse, kills herself.
Now, at this point, there are a few questions to ask. Firstly, why did Zhuang Zi even have such a hare-brained idea as to test his wife like this? Just what was he trying to prove that was so important that he would go through this entire routine? Okay, so your wife promises you to be true, and okay, so you don't believe it because you think it's the nature of human beings, that they've all got weaknesses like this. So you're clever and wise. Good for you. Why can't you let it rest at that?
Second, as Madam Tian remarks midway through the flirting scene, Zhuang Zi was never this good at flirting with her or playing these little love games as the 'prince' standing in front of her is. She does explain that the only reason she married Zhuang Zi was because she admired his reputation as a philosopher-scholar, even as a young-ish man. (Yes, love works in strange ways, I know.) Which brings us to the question: Zhuang Zi, as we understand him in the production, wasn't exactly the most aware of the nature of a woman's heart, was he?
Standing from the modern perspective where we respect men and women to be different equals, and where we acknowledge that women have their emotional needs and desires, you'd have to say that Zhuang Zi was a pretty big failure in terms of being a good love-giver to his wife. He's not a failure because he doesn't know - the whole flirting scene where he pretends to be a prince shows that he does know the tricks. He's a failure because, despite knowing, he takes his wife for granted.
Even in modern times, lots and lots of marriages tumble into collapse really quickly because one party takes the other for granted, the guilty party usually being the husband. We've heard it all before from the women. "Before we married, he gave me all these gifts and told me all the sweetest things. But once we married, all that changed and he stopped doing it."
It's great that Zhuang Zi takes time to go touring around, taking in the scenery and using the time to contemplate deep philosophical issues, but I'm not sure Zhuang Zi, at least as presented in the show, understands what it means to have a wife. Rumour has it that Confucius remained a virgin right up to old age - although that doesn't explain his descendant Kong Rong (of the Three Kingdoms era). But if Confucius really never married, at least he has an excuse in terms of his not understanding affairs of the heart at all. Zhuang Zi? No excuse.
And it's not as if Zhuang Zi does not pause halfway into the ruse and wonder whether it really is appropriate, whether he may be going too far flirting with his own wife while pretending to be someone else. But the die is already cast from the moment he even thinks of doing this, so the tragedy becomes inevitable because it is of his own making. Alack, alas, I know.
So Zhuang Zi is basically cast as this bad guy. And he comes to regret his actions as he sees his wife kill herself right in front of him. The story is, thus, basically over for Zhuang Zi.
But not yet for Madam Tian. She goes to Hades, as all Chinese ghosts do - none make it to Heaven unless they become deities or servants to them, and few do. In Hades, she is harshly judged by first the Judge of Hades and then the King of Hades. She is blamed for her part in falling to the charms of the 'prince' and failing to maintain her fidelity, never mind that it was her own husband's ruse that got her into killing herself in the first place. She is further condemned for not treasuring her own life and choosing suicide. Then she's blamed for being a flirtatious vixen at heart, a property and fate which the King of Hades helpfully declares she can never change.
Now look at that. Blaming the victim and using all sorts of bizarre arguments to justify punishing someone who asks to air her grievances. If we look at this, we'd find it utterly ridiculous, but that's judging based on the courts that reside within common human reason, motivated by our empathy and emotions. As a saying goes, "Even the court has room for human feelings."
Yet this entire trial in Hades, not to mention what the King of Hades has to say, sounds utterly ridiculous. The Judge of Hades claims he is confused by what Madam Tian says, and hastily decides to judge against her. The King of Hades adopts a condemning attitude as well. While this may be happening in the nether world, does it not sometimes reflect the way the courts, or yamen, operate in the mortal world in feudal times, when left in the hands of foolish incompetents?
And does it not reinforce the observation that, in olden times, women suffer by getting the very short end of the stick? A man flirts with you, you didn't start it, yet it's your fault in totality and none of the man's (the Judge of Hades claims "none of my business"). Okay, so I live in a different era, but I still have to say this: What kind of weird screwed-up sense is that?
The play ends with Madam Tian's spirit cutting her abdomen open and cleansing her innards, letting the blood flow generously across the nether world, while the other ghosts and spirits look on, wondering, unable to understand and knowing that they will be unable to understand. It's a symbolic closure for the entire play, and offers some kind of resolution to the tragic figure that is Madam Tian. She is, ultimately, a victim of circumstance, conned into a ruse by her husband - a stupid ruse, I might add - and led to suicide because of her disappointment with both her husband and perhaps herself. Yet even in Hades she does not get the justice we would all think she deserves, harshly blamed instead to have basically asked for it because "she's a vixen by nature".
At one level, then, this play deals with the status of women in feudal times, blamed for all the wrong things men claim they have done. And then, at another level, you have a totally unconventional take on the great philosopher Zhuang Zi. How much of this is based on fact, and how much on fiction? No matter. The point is made that even the saints we so revere may have their imperfect sides, and some very huge ones at that. We see how they have certain character dimensions that, in olden times, people may not have minded, yet today we regard them as huge flaws. How value systems change over time, indeed.
Was it a good production? I have no doubt it was. I may still not be the greatest appreciator of traditional operatic-style performances, but today was a great eye-opener for me. As I said, though, there's a sense of the semi-modern about this, especially with a script like this that provokes thought in an audience pool far removed from the feudal values preached by Confucius and Zhuang Zi. You do need that for the story to work. No one can picture this script being put together in China two hundred years ago, and if we wait another two hundred years, some of the issues raised in a script put together at that time will not have appeared in today's version.
Which reinforces the whole point of the contemporariness of art. Shakespeare is an undying classic, but people love it because it entertains and tells stories. As far as provoking thought goes, though, nothing quite works like contemporary theatre. gambitch [
Friday, March 02, 2007
I've been published once again!
I don't know how many times I have to say thanks before I get tired of it. Probably I'll never tire of saying it!
And that's for starters...
Feels good to be back. Now to live up to my end of the promise.
(There's only ever been one end to the promise anyway - mine. Unless you want to share.) gambitch [
Thursday, March 01, 2007
And so theatre season continues, and this time we have a fun modern production from China. Even the title of the play already suggests something lovely and fun. Dating My Ex-Wife - how un-fun can that be?
Perhaps altogether appropriately, I caught the matinee run of the show, which meant that it was still lovely bright sunlight when I went to watch the show. Well, not exactly. It actually rained pretty solidly hard. But it was only raining outside, not inside. Inside, it was bright and warm and cheery. The perfect way to start the afternoon.
There was actually a change in the cast. The guy who was supposed to play the lead role was unable to make it this time, so they got this other actor to replace him. I wouldn't know about how well the original guy would have fared, but this one who actually stood in for him? Was very good! He cut a pretty solid image, actually, and looked a little bit like Hong Kong television actor Marco Ngai Chun Kit. There's that strong, macho feel to him that's actually rather magnetic. One look and I thought, "There's going to be quite a few girls who will like a man like this."
Which of course brings forward the question: Just how is it possible that the character he plays ends up starting the show having divorced his good-looking wife? Truth is, a question like that sometimes has no place in theatre, because that's the way the script was written. It does strongly suggest that there's a good chance they'll get back together eventually, although that's really spoilering the show. So we'll leave that for now.
I've never really seen that many made-by-Chinese productions before this; this is actually my first, if I remember correctly. Before the show, I had a relatively stiff image of Chinese production crews and plays, thinking somehow that they are slightly out-of-step with the international Chinese-speaking world. For the most part this show provides some basis to that, but it was also pleasantly surprising to find that they're rather more modern and in-sync than I thought. Starting from the set design, the feel is different from some of the more experimental-minimalist stuff I'm used to seeing, but the apprehensive, green-apple kind of feel I was expecting was not there at all.
I won't give away the plot much, suffice to say it's a romantic comedy that's about the main man deciding to woo another woman, and being so nice to his ex-wife that he even introduces her to his good buddy, who actually has been quietly liking her as well. You know how sometimes guys like the wives of their best buddies, and for that reason they really urge their buddies to treasure what they have? There's a bit of that here in this case. Problem is, once they actually start to date, we start seeing how the problems - mostly minor, teething but irritating ones - start to surface. Something as simple as shopping for lingerie, or stopping the partner from smoking. Little things like that. If you know how to swallow it down, it would be that much easier.
As the show proceeds, though, you begin to see how the divorced couple are still living in a manner that has a rather man-and-wife feel to it. It's not so much the passionate courtship part, but the part where you get the feeling they have gotten used to living with each other. Whatever little quirks or imperfections are understood, tolerated, and heck, sometimes even manage to draw a little giggle. Being used to the taste of the cooking. Knowing where the things in the kitchen are put. Little touches like that.
Oh, and there are the "sex potential" bits, too. Now, this is a play that's supposed to be suitable for all audiences, so naturally there's no actual sex. But there's the bit where the male lead's new girlfriend seems terribly embarrassed about buying a see-through bra, and the guy gives the teasing suggestion about her trying it on. Which of course leads to the guy's "eager for some sex" routine when he's alone inside the bedroom. You know, picking an aromatic fragrance to spray, looking for soft music, taking off his T-shirt and doing some warm-up push-ups. That kind of thing. And then, after the whole mood is set and we're all actually feeling a bit tipsy from the whole setup, it's all shattered right the next moment when the woman turns up looking rather unhappy. Why? I won't give much away, except to say obviously there's no sex, and the two end up having a quarrel instead.
Slipped into the story is a little sob moment from the man, when he recalls the hard times he faced as a kid. Those were the times when you'll be grateful just to get to eat an egg, never mind how it's prepared. Now? It's the age of being a nutrition expert, not to mention a good cook too. The girlfriend - a divorcee, by the way - has a son from her previous marriage, and the son wants egg for breakfast every morning, and not just any kind of egg, but sunny-side-up done a certain way. When the mother first says it, you can hear her doting and concern for the son. And initially, the man is all sincerely in accommodating agreement. But later, when he sits and recalls his own childhood, he feels the little boy's so fortunate he's perhaps spoilt.
Old generation meets new, in a sense.
And there's also the misunderstanding that apparently had a big hand in triggering the divorce in the first place. A misunderstanding about a non-existent illicit affair that, of course, gets cleared up inside the time-frame of the play itself. "You mean nothing happened?" gives way to "How could I have been so foolish as to misunderstand you?", which of course eventually gives way to "I still love you." And so the couple are happily reunited at the end - maybe. We never see them marry again, but we know everything's going to be that much nicer and lovelier from here onwards.
I kinda like how they picked the theme song for this play. It's a signature made-in-China song, yet one that we're all familiar with elsewhere in the Chinese-speaking world. It's contemporary, and it's simple and lovely. And they also threw in a very surprising rap part to make up their curtain call. Nice touches of experiment they did, which went further towards gently dispelling the misconceptions we may have had of Chinese theatre.
I never thought I'd love a romantic comedy the way I did with this one, but it was very, very lovely indeed. Skilful in setting up the mood, getting all the mundane little touches right, a bit of laughter, a bit of tears, a bit of soppy love, and a bit of not-so-in-your-face softness. All of these rolling up into a very successful little production. gambitch [
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
When the moment came, it felt kinda funny. I remember thinking in my head, "You mean that's it?"
No, really. Considering the amount of torment that came from a mix of guilt and fear of loss, spanning a little over a month, it really felt kinda funny that we made up so easily.
Or maybe making up was the easy part. Okay, so we didn't kiss. But we made up. And the ease with which we managed to do that was so surprising.
Maybe the real hard part is how we further build the kind of relationship we have from there, whatever it is you and I want to call it. It's a little bit harder to capture than a six-letter word will manage, or maybe it's just that my understanding of the six-letter word in question is a little too simple.
There's something about the whole regularity with which we seem to have to re-clarify and re-define our relationship from basics, which I find... I don't know, I find it funny why it is that we seem to have to keep doing that.
Maybe it's because I wander and stray too easily, through the slightest of accidents. Or maybe it's because this is just my nature.
But I have to say, it really felt much better that we were able to meet and sit down and talk a whole lot of things. It's a huge load off my chest.
Now it's almost as if I'm suddenly whole again.
Yeah, I know, it's my mind messing with itself. But I really felt it. The guilt and the fear, it was real.
And that's why I didn't dare to speak to you until you were willing to reach out to me first. That's why I insisted to myself that I had to wait for you to call me... Until I realized it was becoming too much of an impasse, and I decided to do what most guys would do and take the decisive step towards breaking it.
Once that was broken, it all suddenly seemed so much easier.
Let's just never have to get ourselves into this kind of situation again, please?
Or if we end up doing so, let's do a better job understanding each other and making up, pretty please?
For now, though, let's just make things good again. Pretty pretty please? gambitch [
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
I went singing tonight. At the usual place. Alone.
It was that time again, after all.
And I just felt I wanted to be there. Despite the fact that I fell ill and lost my voice weeks ago, and only got it back recently, and hadn't even tested it to see if it could take singing.
Still, I felt I wanted to be there.
I thought of asking friends to come. But I opted against it. They'd probably say no, at such short notice. And I wanted to be myself, by myself. Being myself in front of selected friends can wait for another occasion. Or the one after that. Or the one after that.
Tonight, I just wanted to let some of myself get to breathe and let out.
And I was surprised to learn a few things. For one, my vocal range seems to have shifted downwards. I can't hit the high notes without straining my voice when I used to do it with rather less effort. So I ended up singing the songs differently. Mostly at lower keys.
For the warm-up song, I picked this one. I really like this song, to be fair, and it's a bit bad of me to do this song so little justice by using it as my warmup song - and therefore not allowing myself to express it with well-smoothed vocals already. But this was one that allowed me to give them vocals a nice opening stretch without being too killer. I have a couple of alternatives, but I chose this one this time. Maybe I should sing it as a non-warm-up number next time.
The singer in the video's very lovely, by the way. Dry and soft and gentle. The Matsu Takako type, definitely.
So that was how I started the evening, and I waited for my next turn (I wasn't the only one singing, not by a long shot!). The rest of the folks were pretty nice themselves, but I'll skip them because this is a post about how I felt when I was singing. Apologies to them, although they probably don't mind - they don't know that I blog.
The second song was a bit of a mad pick, actually. I decided to tag-team with the guitarist on stage, who I knew was a pretty decent singer - better than me at any rate - and pick his trademark song. I don't think I did too badly, considering I had no lyrics to look at. But of course, it was the guitarist who did better - he had the tougher bits. I just sang like Jay Chou.
By now my vocals were shaping up nicely, so I went to hit the third song, which is one I've been doing a bit lately until I lost my voice. Hey, I actually got praised for it when I sang it shortly after Christmas! Or was it after the New Year? Can't tell the difference, but a relative total stranger actually came up to me and said I did good with this song. Which, I suppose, is always nice to know. The only sad part to it this time is that I had to force my key down by quite a bit just to make sure my voice didn't break at the high end. The funny bit is that I got claps for it this time too!
Then came the fourth song. I thought, okay, why not go Canto and do the one song I was particularly decent at? A nice Leslie Cheung number, no less, and one that gets a lot of airing by lots of people here. I've had a try at it before, and I thought I did pretty good back then. But then I surprised myself this time.
I wasn't sure if I had forgotten the lyrics. It has been a couple of months since I last sang it, after all. So I partially followed said guitarist's lead. But as the lines progressed, I was growing confident that the lines never went away. Then it happened - I suddenly injected feeling into my expression of the song quite unlike I ever did before. I was, among other things, smiling. And said guitarist was seeing me showing a big upswing in energy - I think he knew I was overwhelmed and on to something.
The roots of that emotion are not difficult to grasp, once you understand the lyrics. Unfortunately, at the time I think I was triggered by a set of emotions that, interpreted the wrong way, would have been rather inappropriate. I'm not sure if you comprehend... Yes, it was about you.
Which goes back to a certain complex of things that really is quite private, in a certain sense. But that complex of things manifests itself in strange ways that complicate. What I can't deny, though, was that something just felt stronger and stronger as the song went on. I almost dare say I performed better this time than last, but the reasons... Well, they take a bit of explaining. And I'm not sure you're ready for this.
Or, for that matter, my final song for the evening. Another one with extra meaning in my case, because I really, really would have wanted to dedicate it, except I never found the courage to do so in your presence. Because I know that to do so would be a potential invitation for a whole lot of things that we might not really want. It's something I've had to suppress, because I didn't know what would happen if I went with my heart and didn't.
Again, I'm not sure I did that well with this one, because my vocal range was being pushed down, and it didn't seem that good singing this song to too low a key. But again I found the emotion overwhelming...
So that's the evening, in a way. Five songs, getting stronger as the evening went on, leaving me in a certain state of doubt and a certain state of certainty. Which, truth be told, isn't a good mix.
But what will come of it when the morning sun rises?
Some fan favourites keep up the positive memories we have of them when they come back. Some others we wish they had not made what turns out to be an ill-advised move. For one team on TAR:AS, the latter statement held true as Kevin and Drew were eliminated in the second leg.
The religious nuts who watched the first season absolutely loved them. Stories of these two men went on for the past seven years, and their highly recognizable bald heads graced many a TARCON (The Amazing Race Convention in America, for those who really must know). They've appeared on talk shows about later seasons of The Amazing Race, and they even appeared as guests on the Family Edition. Everyone just absolutely loved them.
Yet, when they came back, it was as if they weren't whole. The casual, bantering joy that I have been led to believe is their trademark just sorta never showed up in the quantities I had expected. Turns out Drew was actually hurt before the show, and made the not-that-astute move to do the show anyway. And then he just tumbled over and felt rather painful back in the first leg, thinking he had broken his shoulder or something. For his trouble, not to mention the altitude sickness that came from going to Ecuador, he needed oxygen. Not good.
And the things that happened in this leg weren't that helpful either. Drew almost ran Kevin over with the SUV within the first 15 minutes, and then he decided that there was no point in being polite with a competing team when he yanked David and Mary's bags out of the first class compartment - which incidentally was really in the wrong place. Drew was just cranky the entire trip, and Kevin knew it. But Kevin had no choice but to carry him for as long as he could.
So in that sense, it was probably a good thing they eventually fell behind and got eliminated. It gives them a proper chance to rest their bruised souls, and Drew his bruised shoulder.
Still, this episode wasn't that bad, for many good reasons. One of those reasons is the Codelco building, which gave teams a pretty neat Roadblock. Imagine flying in to a country at 2am or thereabouts, and totally expecting the Hours Of Operation to kick in and give teams a rest. No, not a chance. After seasons of complaint by the viewers for creating too many bunching points, the producers decided they'll not keep on being this kind and pull a surprise right there. Roadblock straight away! And it requires brains! Who didn't sleep enough, eh?
Dustin was pretty sharp, and so she deservedly did well. Mary was quite clever in spotting the pictures first. Shame about hollering out the answer and then accusing other people of eavesdropping though. And besides, Kevin didn't use the correct answer Mary gave away the first time. So as far as the ethics police go, he's clean as anybody. Though he'd probably be just as clean for using Mary's answer the first time, because it came through happy accident anyway.
Charla and Mirna? They grate, bad. Enough said. Mirna has to stop treating Charla like she's a little person who is impeding her own performance. Hell, Charla probably has to carry Mirna more than the other way around.
Oh wait. There's also that crazy bit about Mirna trying to stir up something of a fight with the Beauty Queens. I'm, like, hello? I think the Beauty Queens came out of the whole incident pretty well, and it's Mirna who's basically so stupid. Plus, of course, she seems to have infected Charla a little bit. But no one can beat Mirna for dramatics. I mean, what's that business about giving away all your money to the cabbie? And pretending that you'll die of hunger because of this foul deed by the cabbie to want to charge you for taking you to wherever it is you want to go?
In a way, I'm still glad that Kevin and Drew have been eliminated, if only with their best interests in mind. But I so want to see Charla and Mirna go, as well as David and Mary. In fact, if they can be double-eliminated, that would be such a great thing. gambitch [
This has to be one of those rather freakish things. I mean, what's the odds that anyone who is underage and somehow manages to enter a casino actually manages to go on to win a big jackpot prize? Not terribly high.
But this girl here has done it. So it can happen.
Of course, questions ought to be raised as to why she was given the money to play in the casino in the first place. I'm assuming here that the money came in the form of tokens or special chips made for use inside the casino - although how these tokens were available outside the casino is anyone's guess.
The alternative explanation, then, is that she was given ordinary cash, and this casino allows them to use that to play. Which then leaves us only with the question of how this girl was able to get into the casino at all.
Macau wants to fix the legal loophole. Good. They should do that. But maybe they're going to have to think about improving security to make sure minors don't get in again. gambitch [