Saturday, July 31

Saturday at the Movies: House of Flying Daggers

A sudden change in plan this afternoon saw me on a solitary trek to the Summit USJ where I decided I'd give Zhang Yimou's latest epic-wannabe a look. In total I think there were only about 10 people inside the cinema, and that suited me fine.

Before I continue, I'd just like to say this: I really wanted to like the movie more than I did. Seriously. During the first half I was already composing lines in my head about "how if Zatoichi is Japan's contribution to the new Asian film renaissance then this is China's answer" or something like that when then it struck me that there's not much else one can say about The House of Flying Daggers.

The cinematography is beyond reproach and the actors well suited to their roles but beyond that, it's as if somewhere along the line Zhang Yimou (or rather, the script) ran out of steam and there is no choice but to rely on good old wire-fu and scenery to pad the plodding second half of the movie. Maybe it's me. After Hero one would expect the same balance of storytelling, emotion and fights. Sadly, this is not the case, and THoFD (as I'll call it) suffers from being too good-looking for its own good.

For the uninitiated: the story takes place during the final days of the Tang Dynasty, where government investigators Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) are charged with the task of penetrating and weeding out an anti-goverment group known only as the House of Flying Daggers. As Jin infiltrates the establishment that is the organisation's front, he meets the mesmerising Mei (Zhang Ziyi), a blind dancer who is as deadly with the blade as she is performing. Realising she may be the daughter of the group's leader, him and Leo plan an elaborate deception to ensnare the whole clan. Little does Jin know that things are often not what they seem, and love throws a nut into everything...

In essence, astute viewers (and readers) will be able to pretty much sum up how the story moves on from there. The rebellion that's supposed to be taking place pretty much fades away mid point as the story focuses solely on Jin, Mei, the assorted battles they have to wade through and Leo, in that order. It isn't that the story is bad, it's just underutilised. By the time Jin has to rush to rescue Mei for the umpteenth time (in the same way) you begin to fidget and wonder "is this it?". No matter how pretty and well-designed the sets and the costumes are (and yes they really are pretty) or how many arrows Jin can put into the air at one time, by the second half of the movie one begins to crave something meatier, something that is more significant than the follies and petty jealousies of a love triangle...or am I giving too much away?

Not all is lost, however. In between the padding one sees the promise of a better movie hidden somewhere. The fight scenes are superb, with an air of comicbook wire-fu goodness hidden inside something that approaches dance rather than fighting. The gimmicry is rarely evident, and again Yimou proves that the surrounding environment can be as effective a story telling element than any inane dialogue. The scenery is lush, with colours reflecting the mood of the scenes, and also bringing their own symbolism into the mix. But then again, a movie is more than the scenery and fights, no matter how good they look, need to bring the movie to some sort of a finale, which sadly is missing from the film.

At the end of the day, THoFD is a commendable effort, but Yimou seriously needs to rethink some of his decisions in making it. On the whole it feels stretched out, as if his creative juices are overreached in thinking of some new cinematic scenery plot device to add. So until something better comes along this year, I'll have to retrack that whole Asian renaissance bit. Sorry, but no go.

The Ox gives it a 2.5 out of 5


Job Update, And Missing The Ex

Just so you all know: my appeal for the post of full lecturership has been denied by the university. This piece of wonderful news was given to me by my dean late this afternoon. Since I'd already seen it coming, it doesn't really matter, I guess. It just means that I'm finally going to have to do something about my life, and it starts with leaving this job as soon as I can get something else, or better yet a scholarship for a PhD. The dean did try and say he'd appeal it again, but to me why delay the inevitable? It's obvious the university thinks it can dispense with us, so unfortunately there is nothing else to do but take myself somewhere I can actually be appreciated. Sad, not for me but for the state of academia in Malaysia.

A friend in a similar situation also got a rude surprise: after applying for and getting a place in the UK he was informed that there would be no more scholarships to the Isles, and instead he has to find some other university in Australia or New Zealand. To make things worse if he doesn't leave by November, he has to quit. Finito. Incredible how these things can happen, we think, when the government seems so eager to recall our minds abroad. That's the truth for you.

This post was a couple of days in coming, actually. As I drove back from a friend's birthday do for a brief moment I reminisced about the times before my new-found (okay, it's been a year plus) Singleton status. There are those memories that stay with us even after the wounds have healed and time marches us on with our lives. In the still darkness of the quiet car, I remembered what it felt like to belong, and for the first time in months, missed her so much.

Like I said, it's been a couple days coming. I knew I was going into one of these introspective moods when during book-hunting a couple days back I automatically looked around for her after finding the Gaiman book (as I usually do). The same thing happened when I first read the opening passage and found it so funny I glanced to my left to show it to her only to realise that force of habit had taken its toll, and there was no one there.

Yes, sometimes I still do miss her, and the things we used to have. But then I realise that these days there is no more pain, just a sense of peace. Like her, I've moved on with my life, and even though I may not have found my particular place in the universe, the memories of the past 4 years remain as a source of strength and of joy, especially during those long, lonely night drives. Life was good...and it can still be, one day.

In case you're reading, kiddo: this is one of those things I still think about. But all's well, and maybe one day we'll all look back and laugh. Thank you, for the times, for the laughs, and for the memories.

Thank you.


Thursday, July 29

King Arthur: Reviewed!

Two words: splitting headache. That's what I'm having now. There's an ache that starts at the base of the neck, slithering over my skull to and then crossing over the right temple to finally hit with a boom! boom! boom! worthy of any Elizabethan 21 gun salute.

Oh good God. This had better go away by tomorrow. Still, I promised a review of Jerry Bruckheimer's latest, and I shall not fail.

Like many others (I think) my first experience with Arthurian legend very likely came from a version of Sir Thomas Malory's La Morte de Arthur, with all its romantic and dramatic trappings: the Lady of the Lake, Lancelot, Guinevere, Merlin and Mordred and finally Arthur's death. I read this when I was six. Then there was the Disney-ised Sword in The Stone, which while nowhere near historically accurate was still entertaining. Throughout the years there have been many retellings of the legend (including an attempt at modernism via First Knight), but none as brutally un-mythic as 2004's King Arthur.

Jerry Bruckheimer bandied the fact that his version would be the most historically accurate for months before the movie's release. Personally, I think it's highly doubtful especially when considering the various researches on Arthuriana out there. Still, the film does have its odd moments of charm which works to its advantage.

What struck me the most was how the legend was stripped to its bare essence: a brave idealistic knight and his comrades doing the right thing, rather like the Seven Samurai. Sure, there is the odd historical reference here and there, but nothing I would personally call research-based. We meet Lancelot in the beginning, and before long we get to know the rest of the troop: Arthur, Gawain, Galahad, Bors, Dagonet and Tristram (spelled Tristan here). These are powerful fighters taken from their homeland to fight for the Romans against their will. But as the Romans withdraw from Britain in anticipation of the imminent Saxon invasion will Arthur and his knights leave? Or will they stay and fight for the only land they know?

In a sentence: perfect material for a Braveheart wannabe flick.

Despite supposedly being directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) it doesn't show. What does show are Bruckheimer's trademark scenes: babies crying, battle cries, sweeping overhead vistas. It's as if Fuqua could have been supplanted by any other director and the results would have been the same. Quite a shame, but nothing too damaging. In crafting KA, Bruckheimer essentially stripped away all of the mythic veneer we've come to get used to through the ages until he portrays Arthur as his research shows he was: an honest, true figure. There is no magic at work here, no flirtation between Lancelot and Guinevere (and in an interesting twist there is a new take on the whole sword-in-the-stone bit) no Morgan Le Fay and certainly no mysterious Lady of The Lake.

The heroes are just that, heroes. They fight, bluster, crack jokes, bleed and also die, like in any other epic these days. They are suitably larger than life in their battle prowess and loyalty to their commander and in a sense perhaps Bruckheimer was trying to craft a new legend out of the ashes of the old, a grittier, more realistic Arthur he felt modern audiences could respond to.

When it's all said and done, King Arthur isn't really a bad film. Its worst fault lies in the pretentiousness of the whole thing: their insistence that the film is based on fact just gives the film a blast of hot air that is for the main part unnecessary. Taken as a summer popcorn flick, it's great. But a scholarly tribute to this mysterious Briton king? Definitely not.

Will you enjoy King Arthur? Perhaps, especially with Keira Knightley in Wode battle armour (although I've read somewhere that the Wodes rode into battle naked) and the gloriously epic battle scenes. But as mentioned above, take it as it is, and maybe your mental picture of Arthur and his knights of the Round Table will survive.

I found the omission of Perceval rather surprising, although perhaps not so much in light of Dagonet's untimely death. Someone has to find the Grail...but that's another story.

Favourite line from the movie:
"A round table? What manner of evil is this?"
-Bishop Germanius, upon entering the Chamber of the Table.

Related Link:
This source has loads of content on Arthur and his history/legends.

The Ox gives King Arthur a 3 out of 5.


Reading And Inept Forensics

**Update: Kino just called, and they found a copy of If Chins Could Kill! Huzzah! It'll still take a month to get here, but hey I'll wait.

First things first: I'm mobile again. My leetle white box o' joy was delivered to me at about elevenish, and at half the expected price! I didn't have time to celebrate however, as I had to rush for an important work appointment in Menara Celcom at lunchtime. This was after persuading some colleagues to pick me up from KLCC where I managed to join the spirit of National Reading Month by getting Neil Gaiman's book on Douglas Adam's Hitchiker's Guide Series, Don't Panic and trying to reserve If Chins Could Kill (Bruce Campbell's biography, which sadly as I just found out is unavailable). I figured that even with the list of unread books I still have (Stephenson's Necronomicon, Dr Persaud's From The Edge Of The Couch) a couple or two more won't hurt. Then there's my Discworld collection to complete, The Sandman...Clive Barker's Abarat..oh the humanity! I can just see my money vanishing in huge puffs of smoke!

By the way, by now you'd have noticed that I have very few American writers in my list. A side-effect of my pseudo-anglophilic tendencies? I still drink teh o limau, mind you.

Anyway, before I go to the review of King Arthur (later entry) I'm just going to say how disappointed I am with the Malaysian Police, in their handling of Nurul Huda's rape and murder. Three whole rolls of photographic evidence down the drain because of a mechanical error? And yet the rest of the Malaysian populace subscribes to the media exercise that is 999 because it satisfies their voyeuristic urges, when anyone with half a brain can see how blatantly inefficient their handling of forensics is. Score one for our civic-conscience, and give ourselves a pat on the back why don't we.

This is why we need digital cameras in our police force. Granted, they can fail too. But they also give us a preview of our shots, instead of having to wait several hours for a roll of film to be processed. Those hours can mean the difference between catching a perpetrator and having him get off scot-free. Plus, if a digital camera doesn't work, it's readily apparent. I have no idea how old the Nikon in question was, but I have a feeling the so called error was simply incompetent handling/storing of the equipment.

So now the evidence (even of the autopsy) is gone, save for several shots the officer in question took with a personal camera. How does this impact Nurul's case? Definitely not for the better, that I can say. I wouldn't want to be the one telling this news to her parents, no sirree. How many more cases of mysterious errors must happen, or does it take a Minister's son or daughter to die before we clean up our woefully inadequate forensics team?

And please, lay off the VCD/DVD sellers. Try and catch some real criminals for a change.


Wednesday, July 28

Bad Press For Gamers

A friend gave me the heads up on this last Sunday, but I've been taking my time to talk about it here, simply because I didn't want it to be just another rant, I plain forgot and also because playing Sudeki's quite time consuming (since Fable's coming in 2 months, it's better than nothing).

So yeah, anyway. Last Sunday the aforementioned friend attended a game launching by a budding local online gaming company held in Midvalley. My friend was taken aback (for want of a better term) at the sloppiness of the whole affair: the supposed new game to launched merited only a lame PowerPoint slide show with no audio, and there were only 4 PCs dedicated for the launch. That in itself wasn't too bad (considering the officiating was done by a batik-wearing government official) until they decided to reveal the coup de grace: two guys dressed in black burst in on the scene, pointed BB guns towards the officer (who happened to be a deputy minister) and started threatening to "blow his brains out". Another guy also in black grabbed a female member of the audience and she started screaming until a camo-clad guy walked in, "despatched" the intruders all the while screaming "mampus kau!". Now, while I'm all for good gimmicks at trade shows and fairs ala E3, there is a line between a smartly done stunt (Spec Ops men rappeling out a heli at E3) and sheer stupidity (read: this).

Now one does not have to be an analyst to realise that this kind of publicity stunt does not help with the public perception of video gaming in Malaysia. We gamers already have to contend with scientists, government people and the general public blaming everything from drunk driving to Columbine on the awesome destructive power (??) of computer and video games. Having an ill-orchestrated stunt that involves pointing a gun at a senior government official does not help matters any, especially when the poor soul probably has no idea what the whole thing involves in the first place.

Note to game companies thinking of doing the same thing: don't. Or, get a competent PR team who can actually come up with something entertaining, awe-inspiring or just freaking related to the bloody product. Regardless of how many gamers exist in Malaysia these days, the purpose of a launching is still to get the message across to the whole spectrum of people, not only the gamers. If this kind of irresponsible marketing persists, don't be blaming anyone else if you run into bad press. So in the end, this promising little company made a boo-boo. It was damaging, yes, but it can also be avoided.

Here's hoping no one else decides to dab some more mud on the gaming pie. Please.

Coming up next: King Arthur Reviewed!, The One About Missing The Ex, Skoda Speeding, Ghosts of Genting and plenty more! Keep tuning in, folks.



Grounded Ox Vol 2: Coffee and TV

It was strangely gratifying to notice that tonight's episode of Law and Order SVU took a swipe at not one, but two artistes. Not the most original of episodes (I was hoping the kid would turn out to be some psychopathic delinquent) but it was good for a few laughs, plus having the term "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy" bandied about kind of made up for it. Take that, Eminem.

So anyway. How are you, folks? It's been a slow day. So slow that in fact I'm itching to go to work, and I may just jump on the train at 6.50 am tomorrow so that I'll be just in time for work at oh..10.00. Thank you, KTM Komuter. As usual your speed in conveying us all is unprecedented.

As I was talking to a friend over coffee today (yes this is what people who don't have cars do, we have coffee) I couldn't help but look around at the people in the vicinity. Yes, that includes pretty girls, and then the question suddenly popped into my head: what constitutes pretty or attractive (and this goes for both sexes)?

From a male point of view, in my experience it evolves as you grow older (doesn't help that we're at least 5 years behind mentally). I used to go ga-ga over pretty tall girls with legs that "go on forever", so to speak. Being firmly entrenched in the geek/nerd camp, the probability that I could actually interact with these "pretty people" was statistically just below the one that tells you when pigs could fly. Therefore the myth that these people were snobbish and wouldn't give you the time of day was reinforced, partly because we were too busy being geeks and some of them were snobbish. These days, thanks to a certain planetary alignment I run into (and interact with! Yay!) these figures of myth occasionally, and I'm happy to report that not only do they give me the time of day, sometimes they give me the date as well...which means that there are some nice ones out there. Ahem.

As time went on and the myth of the tall pretty bombshell dissipated, I realised that the definition of attractiveness changed as well. No longer was I only content to ogle boobs and a nice pert arse (although honest to God these are desirable attributes which merit their own blog entry) but I began to look for more. A certain..spunkiness, perhaps. Intelligence, also. No doubt influenced by the novels I read as a teenager the vapid doe eyed fair-skinned maiden gradually got replaced by, well, a more..compact package. Preferably wielding dual swords +2 (Ash, lay off the RPGs - ed.)

I guess I just outgrew the notion of the whole princess who needed rescuing thing as well as the oh-God-she-better-be-pretty-so-I-can-show her-off-to-my-mates thing. So as I sat there sipping my overpriced (but still relatively sedap) coffee I realised that it could be so many things: the shape of the mouth, the symmetry of the face, the way the hair is cut/falls across the face, the clothes (oh even with a hijab a woman can still be elegant), the bleedin' obvious (yes, pert/medium/large top and bottom), the walk, even the slope of the back (especially that little hollow in the small of the back..yum!) and that no matter where you look there'll always be someone who catches your own particular fancy, whatever your pleasure. In fact, I may be brave enough to venture that to perhaps one or two people out there I'm not that bad a catch either, hahah! Now doesn't that warm the cockles of my heart!

Anyway, here's to Malaysia (where the grass is green and the girls are pretty AND and to subjective attractiveness! By the way, what turns YOUR crank?


Tuesday, July 27

Poetry In Motion

Seen on a STAR LRT on the way to Plaza Rakyat, approximately 9.55 am today (since I AM on leave, and was sending my brother to the bus station). I have no idea if this is what they intended when deciding to adorn the walls of our transport system with poems, but for a moment I was lost in Blake, and in the comforting arms of old friend mistress Memory (nevermind the creaking of the train, yeah?).

Love's Secret

Never seek to tell thy love,
Love that never told can be;
For the gentle wind does move
Silently, invisibly.

I told my love, I told my love,
I told her all my heart;
Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears,
Ah! she did depart!

Soon as she was gone from me,
A traveler came by,
Silently, invisibly
He took her with a sigh.

-William Blake


Grounded Ox Vol 1

Whaddya know? I've been so out of it these past few days that the moment I log on and open my Bloglines page the whole world's suddenly moved a couple inches. So much for thinking we're the centre of the universe, eh (well I'm still gonna think I'm the centre of mine, so there).

Anyway. The blighted car's not fixed yet and I just spent the better part of the day slogging through Sungei Wang with my brother, looking for some stuff he needs to take back to Kulim. Normally this wouldn't be much of a chore but without a car, man you really learn to live a little. Also, I think I burnt at least some of that fat I seem to be so attached to (fie on you thin people, especially you, Sashi!). So until the workshop clears the backlog of fixed cars (guess what the junior mechanics are all taking leave one after the other!) my car will be a semi-permanent fixture outside the shop, at least until Wednesday.

Wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have to walk 2 bloody kilometres up and down just to get some chow, but then again when God wants you to learn something, He just ups and does it. No contest there, God. I reckon the lesson of the week is Humility, and also penance for some undisclosed sins in me past (which shall remain undisclosed, thank you). So the next few days will be spent in quiet contemplation, lots of walking and taking of baths and also..the odd gaming session or three, which is now easier thanks to the addition of a VGA box to me PC, allowing anything with a composite/S-Video output to be viewed on the monitor thus saving my sister and me any more bickering about who gets the telly at nights. Before anyone says anything yes that was a long sentence.

Also on my list is to see what else happens to the so-called preparations for the faculty's tenth birthday. Last I heard everyone's in a bind. How so unexpected. So until I'm mobile again, have a good week and DO spare a kind thought for a grounded old soul on enforced leave that he will have to pay for.


p/s: I've got a rant or two on some irresponsible blokes last Sunday, but that will have to wait.


Saturday, July 24

...But Not Going Anywhere

You read it right, folks. Looks like I'm not going back after all. I'd planned to meet up with a couple friends for a movie, and as I was heading out towards the Summit USJ just before SJMC, I heard and felt the snap! that could mean only one thing: my clutch was officially dead. A couple of quick thrusts (by my foot of course) confirmed that it'd given up the ghost. Nothing much for a guy in my fix to do but hit the hazard lights and roll to a more-or-less graceful stop.

Was I expecting it? Oh yes. Every year my clutch has to die once, as if to appease the strange and obscure gods of Car Repair (of which they must be laughing and clutching their bellies now. Fie on you! I hope you choke on your ambrosia!). Anyway, I made a quick call to cancel the movie and with a prayer barely dying on my lips placed a call to my race driver-cum-mechanic, Adi. As my mysterious destiny would have it, he was still near the workshop and 20 minutes later I was in the passenger cab of a tow truck his friend owns, heading back home.

If anyone ever needs reminding why I love living where I do, this is one of those reasons. Sure, the rent's high and petrol consumption's to the roof, but I can be rest assured that if I need any of my creature comforts/emergency assistances, they're never more than 20 minutes away (I have TWO Maybank branches within a 1 km radius). Plus, I don't think I'd give my mechanic-who-also races cars up for anything (especially since he does almost all the work from a wheelchair).

So yeah, for a guy who's about to spend RM 500 to 700 on the car tomorrow, I think I'm pretty calm. I'm just thankful it happened while I was still near the apartment and not speeding towards Perak (not that I speed, mind you). This does put a dent into any spending plans I may have for the upcoming megasales, though. There goes the shirts and trousers I've been itching to buy (it's been 8 months, dear God!) and the social plans but hey, I'm not complaining. At least I'm safely at home and the car's with someone I trust.

Just to let you know though. If you don't hear from me in the next month, I'll probably be at home squeezing every hour of entertainment from Bejeweled (cracked, of course) and various other free or almost-free escapes.

Well..'ave a good one, folks.



Friday, July 23

Going Back

The car's in the shop, but this time it's just routine maintenance. I was supposed to drive back today but a look at the service manual told me I'd just better go and get the poor car a little tune up. Peace of mind, and all that. PLUS I'll be driving alone, and the Ox does not fancy getting stuck halfway anywhere.

My brother arrived from Kulim yesterday (yay!) and so I'll be going back for a nice stress-free weekend of gaming and babysitting and food (not that I need any, I am SO fat) until Sunday, when the plan is to bring him over here for a couple days before he shoots back to Perak.

So until I come back, hope everyone has a good weekend, and as usual:

If you can't be good, be bloody careful yeah?

And here's a complimentary link o' the day for ya: Mindball, then read about Gmail's sneaky approach to beat the crap out of MSN and Yahoo! Woohooo!


Wednesday, July 21

Parents Around The World

Tired. It seems like it's the only constant these days (well, besides change, but who wants to hear that particular cliche again?) and after awhile the mind welcomes the condition, simply because it's used to it. We get used to a lot of things, it seems. Jobs that seem to go nowhere, weird family disputes, that empty space next to you (and in that gaping hole in your chest), we chew our fat as gracefully as we can and work our butts off to at least try and make something different tomorrow.

You know, because it's all about the effort. Or so they say. A quick scan of my bloglines subscriptions confirms what I've been thinking so far: that the world never runs out of ways to surprise you, make you smile/cry or just fuck you over. Today's theme is parents, and the many ways they love you.

Anyone remember that movie Lorenzo's Oil? From the BBC today: Lorenzo's Oil may be able to prevent ALD from manifesting in children with the carrier genes. Amazing, that after 18 years Lorenzo Odone is still alive and well, after being given only two years to live. Suffering from a disorder called Adrenoleucodystrophy (ALD), a genetic condition that progressively destroys the brains of young males, his parents decided to do some research of their own and came up with the titular oil. Their efforts (and the resulting skepticism from the scientific community) was later dramatised in the Nick Nolte/Susan Sarandon vehicle Lorenzo's Oil. I remember growing up and reading of it in Readers' Digest and later watching it on VHS. It made the news around the world, and I remember the excitement it generated as parents all over excitedly wanted some.

While ultimately heroic and sweet, unlike in the movie the Oil is sadly not a cure. The article cites boys who were given doses of it, but died anyway. What is surprising is that in a 10 year long study the researchers found out that while it doesn't cure the disease, Lorenzo's Oil helps prevent its onset in children carrying the gene. In the end, the story of Augusto and Michaela's trials and tribulations isn't only about unconditional love. It's also about the power of effort, and the hope that their legacy can give to perhaps hundreds of other boys around the world.

On the other end of the scale, we have this somewhat disturbing trend in Japan of parents granting sexual favours to their kids in exchange for good grades. The article's here, in case anyone thinks I'm making this up, especially after Visitor Q. So mothers strip naked for their sons (or give them fellatio) while fathers sit back patiently and out of sight, after getting a chastity belt on mummy, of course. So what excuse do these boys have anymore? Repressed hormones? Disturbing hard-ons disrupting study periods? Nuh-uh.

I tell you, one of these days I'm going to have to actually go to Japan, if only to see if all this is true. Wouldn't surprise me anyway, since this is a country that survived atomic bombardment to conquer the masses with animated stories featuring a boy and his yellow lightning-charged pet. Woohoo.

Ugh. Look at the time. Need to go before whatever it is that got to Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) in Secret Window infects me and I start putting screwdrivers in people's heads. There's this really interesting research paper from MIT on ethnographic differences regarding piracy that I'd like to share but that can wait till tomorrow..since it IS 31 pages long.

Till next time, people. Hope your Thursdays start (and end) better than those weak Nescafe ads they insist on making you listen to.



Tuesday, July 20

The Skulls And Academic Gaming

What started out as a bleak, cloudy Tuesday morning (one wonders if there is any other kind these days) later developed into a not-so-bad afternoon, as yours truly found out that in an online survey on student satisfaction conducted several months ago he scored a consistent 8.7 and 9.2 out of a possible 10 (this based on the two subjects he taught previously) . Admittedly nothing too grandiose, and nothing that will win him any awards, but the sense of a job well done is in the air. Seems like the intimidation and browbeating did work after all, heheh (if only they knew).

So as he langourously lounged (or rather, tried to be as languorous as physically possible, which is easier said than done considering the Ox has the consistency of lumpy plasticine) on the rickety old computer chair he decided to do some reading, since bloglines has now made it possible for him to get his daily dose of internet-trivia without expending any energy. Two articles got his attention. The first, courtesy of was an unsurprising expose on the clique mentality in the US, or more accurately how exclusive, all-men clubs with waiting periods stretching into decades are enjoying their "apartness", even, it seems, from common sense. To quote:

"Mostly, the members are old white guys. They want younger faces at all these clubs, but by the time people work their way up the waiting lists, the dew is off the bloom. The lawyer who went through the lengthy process to join the PU is also on a waiting list for the Bohemian Club. He's been on it for 20 years.."

It's an extremely long article, but goes a long way into describing these clubs that are so exclusive, not even women can come in. Prospective members have go through a grueling initiation and invitation phase and assuming they eventually get in, have to abide by rules of the ultimate secrecy. However not everyone who's supposedly a celebrity can get in:

"The club recently said no to one tycoon -- Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems. He was named the best CEO golfer in the country by Golf Digest magazine. Whatever this club is holding out for, it's not members with a great swing."

I could go on and on about this, but I'll let you all decide. The other little snippet that caught my eye came from Gamespot, in their weekly GameSpotting column. Features Associate Editor Steve Palley writes on the possible academic merits of video gaming. Not in the multimedia-in-education sense of the term (like we're so fond of using here) but in the notion that one day, perhaps studies in the psychology and art of the video game may prove to be as valid a research topic as Dickens' novels in the past. I think this sentence carries the point quite well:

"We've bought video gaming's economic line completely, and it would be difficult to argue against the burgeoning social impact of the phenomena. But, however much the new media permeates our culture at present time, its ascendancy will be incomplete until the White Towers of academia coronate it."

Palley posits (quite well) that as time goes by, video games will take the path that television and film took before it, and merit serious work into their genesis, evolution and impact. Although he is aware that by being targeted to such a narrow audience (males 18-34) the scope is hardly universal, the essence of a game which is the amalgamation of so many varied art forms demands that it be taken as a discipline worthy in its own right. My favourite paragraph in the whole article continues a description of some of gaming's great designers, like Miyamoto Shigeru (Mario) or Peter Molyneux:

"Designers like these may not have carte blanche from their studios and underwriters, but they certainly command a lot of influence over the shape of the project. Their creative imprimatur is apparent to experienced gamers and cognoscenti. I would say that the work of some of these designers isn't just canonical: it's thematically unified artwork... They are the media in which all of the previously mentioned art forms can be combined into a single multidisciplinary edifice."

He closes by listing several academic programs in the US that provides a starting point for studies like these. I think I may want to change the focus of my PhD (if I ever get around to doing it). It's just so intriguing living in the times we do, that I'm just tempted to be unoriginal and quote Dickens when he wrote "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.."



Monday, July 19

Bad Name Cards, Drills, And Other Oxservations

Before I forget, I'll just say this: never, ever trust the business of making your name cards to someone with the design sense of a blind goose, and who decides to send it to a printing company that in the end makes the sophomoric efforts of a group of 5 year olds look better.

I blame it all on myself, actually. Should have vetoed the design before they sent it in, but since I was teaching the whole day I thought I could trust them with the simplest of things. I was wrong. There's the temptation to actually take a photo of the blasted thing and include it in this post, but at this time I'm still too mortified to even take a look at them. All 100 of them.

Boys and girls, if you were to take RM 30 and burn it on your stove you'd probably still be ahead of me. I'm left with a stack of sub-par name cards that are too ugly to look at, printed on paper that's just about the thickness and texture of two Double A sheets stuck together, and printed by a syarikat "orang kita" (if you miss the reference, ask around. I'm sure someone knows).

Bearing this in mind, it's been a lovely day. I'm in a nice, mean, sarcastic mood, and as I was driving back from work, everything (and I DO mean everything) took on a decidedly sucky mien. Some of my more coherent observations:

Having been assaulted by the annoying radio spots for the better part of the week, let me just ask you this: who the hell needs a surround sound phone? When you put the mobile in your back pocket, does the ringtone come from both your arse cheeks? Do you actually need to be surrounded in full surround polyphonic glory whenever your mum needs you to buy another tin of Purina for the kitty? As anyone knows, I love technology. But a surround sound phone makes as much sense now as the oft-touted underwater pen (and I'm curious to know if all those billions were justified) since according to popular lore, the Russians one upped the whole thing by using pencils in space.

Take that, NASA.

Anyway, the next thing that caught my eye was slightly better. Passing near SS16 I noticed an ad for a Bosch lithium-ion powered mini screwdriver kit retailing for just RM 159! Now, like other men (?) the notion of owning such a powerful, time saving device is irresistible (a few people will remember that for my birthday a couple years ago I went absolutely ga-ga over a Black and Decker Scumbuster, which I still use religiously) and I have a feeling I'll be owning one of them soon, you know, for those times when it's absolutely essential to have a powered screwdriver.

If by this time any of you are equating the usefulness of a Li-Ion screwdriver with a Surround sound phone, don't even think about it.

Next. Yeah, Zsarina's blogged about it, and I'll put in a word or two. What the hell happened to Malaysian Idol? This weekend's episode was about as exciting as a lobotomy, and probably more painful. The set was pathetic, lighting wouldn't have looked out of place on a porn shoot and the judges were..anemic. If this is what we have to look forward to every weekend, the producers are in for a surprise. Give us (and the contestants) a semblance of dignity, please.

So yes, now I'm at home, sweaty, full and slightly less mean. I've just downloaded a hell of a lot of movies to watch, upgraded my Xbox Media Centre (don't you just love that spelling of the word?) to the final 1.0 version, and I'm going to spend the rest of my night finishing my notes and generally staying away from anything that reminds me of name cards, surround phones and Malaysian Idol.

Goodnight, folks.


Sunday, July 18

Dashboard Confessional

Seems to me like weekends are when things start to get wonky. You can be lost in a throng of people, all of them saying hello, how are you Oh God has it really been that long and what are you wearing to the wedding, did you know the tailor completely fucked the dress up and at the same time feel totally lost, like you're an island in the middle of an always chattering sea. Okay, so the sea doesn't chatter, but if you're nitpicking this is not the best blog to be reading now.

(A many thanks to THIS blogger who decided to inspire this post, albeit unconsciously)

Anyway. After awhile of that floating feeling (as opposed to that sinking feeling, which many people can tell you is much worse) everything begins to blur into a muffled drone and though you may be in the thick of things, you're disconnected, as far apart as if you were 10 000 miles away. The body's left, nodding and smiling like some 14th century automaton when quite honestly there's just noone home. Sometimes, you wonder if everyone's lives are interconnected by some cosmic filament, if there's someone on the other side equally as bewildered as you are. You like to think that that person is also trying to unravel those tangled skeins, hoping to make some sense of everything and at the same time, wondering if there's someone like you on the other end.

And so, fueled by this shadow of a hope some of us carry on doing the things we do, saying the things we say, dancing the same dance, left, right, skip and turn and a-one two, left. Biding time, some of us call it. The thought that there may not be anyone at the other end of the filament sometimes crosses our mind, but it is quickly quashed, for if there is no one out there, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow then what the hell is the fucking point?

Perhaps the point is, as black as it may make our Mondays tomorrow, is that there isn't one, that we have to make our own lives matter. Not to be defined by the ones we're with (or wish to be with, didn't think I'd let you lot off, eh, ha-ha) our friends, our jobs, our own individual bogs (sorry Jikon, couldn't resist) or our very user-specific monkeys on the back. Though we live on a planet of 6 billion souls, what guarantee is there that the person on the other side (if this filament even exists) finds you in time before you wheeze the final breath, or if he/she/they/it isn't an amorphous giant plasma being from the Horsehead Nebula (I don't know about you, but I suspect sex would definitely be a problem, let alone dating a being comprised mainly of gas)?

Pessimistic? Perhaps, but I not overtly so, I think. The hardest thing about living, when you've realised that you've found all you need up to a point is perhaps finding yourself. So until that day decides to dawn (or it's dragged into the picture) I know of at least some people like me who'll continue putting down bits and pieces of their lives into caches all over the net, sometimes ambiguous, other times, horrifyingly honest (like oh my God the sex was amazing, and she was a screamer, bearing in mind that sentence is fictional) until we finally find this thing we're looking for, and more importantly recognise it before it goes.

Because let me tell you one thing, starting over's a bitch, and she slaps you hard.


Thursday, July 15

How I Got Here Today, or My Career

I got a couple emails today from some people who were curious about my current career predicament. You see, newer readers of the Ox (yes, you three) may have missed out on my earlier rants on my situation at work. So, rather than subject them to hours of scrutinising my previous entries, I thought I'd be a dear and post a streamlined, timeline-like piece on my job up till now.

November 2000
An out of work Ox, tired of jumping from one part time thing to another decides to accept an offer of a tutorship at the university (I applied half a year earlier). First day of work was the 11th of November.

December - February 2000

Started working as a tutor, and was informed that the university was interested in looking for more lecturers. In any case, the new SLAB scheme offered a scholarship for our master's degrees on the condition that we'd be bonded once we came back, but as full lecturers. Not in the contract, but implied through the current policies.

May 2001
Began first semester of master's course in UPM, since allocation for overseas studies were all full. Ended up paying for the first semester myself because of red tape. My uni finally paid the bills, two semesters too late. Allowances were also late, leading to a lot of hungry nights.

November 2002
Finished master's course and returned to the uni. Colleague who returned in October was being interviewed for promotion to lecturer, more of a formality than anything else. Got hit by the first of several bombs: sometime during 2002, the uni decided to shift the minimum requirement for their lecturers to a PhD, effective January 2003. Fought to have another round of interviews in the same time frame, but failed.

January 2003

New policy takes effect, leaving me and my four colleagues still tutors. No pay increase, no benefits. Pleading for second hearing (and an interview) starts.

May 2003
Interview finally commences, due to inexplicable reasons. Final result: the university appoints us temporary lecturers, with lecturer pay, but no other benefits ie: not eligible for government loans of any kind, years of service not counted, no increments, until end of 2006 (when we end the bond) or we return from our PhDs.

July 2004
One year of grunt work, hefty administrative duties with no time to prepare for a proper PhD proposal, let alone to find scholarships. A letter of appeal is sent via the dean to the VC for us to be promoted to full lecturers (again). Letter gets censored. The VC's office receives it, and requires us to wait two weeks for an answer.

That, my friends, is the past year or so in a nutshell. I've given up really talking about it, and instead am concentrating on what other options I DO have. It's tiring, and sometimes you just feel like throwing in the towel, but I guess everyone goes through their own private hell.



RSS Enabled

Just so some people are happy, I've enabled RSS (actually it's an Atom feed) for the blog, but no worries. With FeedBurner's SmartFeed technology, anyone with an RSS-only browser can still access my feed, so you don't have to install seven different doohickeys.

Hope this makes it easier for everyone.

Have a good rest of the week!


Wednesday, July 14

Midweek Madness: Battlefield Stadium Reviewed!

Today's episode of CSI was among the best I've seen this season, surprising me just when I thought it was going to be another cut and dried by the numbers murder case. Fantastical as it may have seemed, I am reminded again though that life is more often than not stranger than fiction..but this is material for another entry. Tonight, I review another obscure Japanese movie.

I'll just say one thing first: you'll either hate this flick, or love it to bits.

Helmed by Versus director Yudai Yamaguchi (plus it stars the same lead) Jigoku Koshien (or Battlefield Stadium/Baseball, depending on where you are) is a silly, fun-filled romp into live-action anime madness. Loosely based on a manga, it tells the story of the Seido High baseball team who as luck would have it find out they have to face the literally evil Gedo High team in their first match of the year. Normally this wouldn't pose much of a problem except for one thing: Gedo High's players are all monsters, and they've killed every other team in their way.

Yup, you read that right. And I really mean monsters. There's the long-chinned zombie coach in a cowboy hat and boots, a mummy that speaks through a transistor radio plugged into its throat and even a guy with a nut permanently stuck in his cranium, among others. These guys are grey/green and they're definitely mean. Okay, with me so far? It gets better. As Seido's principal laments his team's potential demise, a ray of hope shuffles in in the form of Yakyu Jubeh (Tak Sakaguchi), the new transfer to the school. Jubeh is talented, but he'd sworn off the sport after accidentally killing his father with a pitch that literally went through him. Will the coach be able to persuade Jubeh to join the lineup and prevent almost certain death? Does Jubeh find the long lost family he's been looking for all this while? Will the plot get even sillier?

By this time, you'll know the answers, even without me telling. Battlefield Stadium is sheer silliness personified. From the random musical bits than happen (complete with rose coloured filter on the camera), to the over the top disregard for the laws of physics and gravity, you know this is a film with its tongue firmly planted in cheek ("What, you expecting to be saved by a senior with long hair and a dirty uniform?" asks a fellow teammate's mother who angered by her son's involvement in baseball, locks him in a cage). There is nothing even remotely serious about it, and fans of the unusual quirky brand of Japanese humour will find plenty of laughs here. It is this that forms the film's main strength as well as its weakness. BS (amazing acronym eh?) is almost too specific, until it's in danger of alienating all but the staunchest otaku.

That aside, there are moments of hilarity that transcend any description, for instance Jubeh's musical number explaining his decision to retire from baseball and the obvious Matrix-inspired kung-fu scene between himself and the mother (who turns out to be HIS mother as well). The film is so low budget and the acting and storyline barely making the grade that the only thing saving it is the obvious enthusiasm of the actors, as well as the aforementioned sense of humour.

In short, BS is a quirky little flick that is worth a watch just because of the humour and strangely enough, the spirit of fair play it advocates. There are no hidden meanings or deep issues here. Battlefield Stadium is a good way to while away a rainy afternoon, and I dare say it beats Akademi Fantasia any time hands down.

Ash.ox gives Battlefield Stadium a 3 out of 5.


Tuesday, July 13

Mean Girls, and Boys

Tonight's episode of Law and Order: SVU touched more nerves than I realised. At this time, I'm still agitated as hell. I guess I remember now why I still am averse to teenage-cool-group movies like the recent Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan or no. For those of you who missed it (Law and Order, not Mean Girls), in today's episode a group of teenage girls collectively mutilate and kill one of their own, simply because they felt she was betraying them. As the case progresses, the viewer realises that it is not simply a case of spite or jealousy, and that the world of a teenager (at least in the States) is one that is filled with a whole different world of customs and rules we haven't even heard of. When it looks like it will end on a high note, the writers turn the tables on us and show us that some things never go away and that reality is never as cut and dried as we'd like.

A good episode, in short.

An interesting point that was raised tonight was the defence's argument that the dominant personality of the main defendant, Brittany, dwarfed and ultimately assumed control over any vestige of free will posessed by the other two girls in her clique. While the prosecuting ADA was rather skeptical of this (understandably) I felt that there were certain aspects of the defensive argument that had their merits, especially considering the social dynamics of the American teenage lifestyle. Granted I have only limited knowledge in law and psychology, but would we accept a diminished responsibility on the belief that a person's charisma is strong enough to overcome any moral scruples the people in his/her immediate social group has? Does free will disappear in the presence of a superior dominant personality? Can someone get off a murder charge based on a defence like this?

We've all seen the power of the personality at work: with Charles Manson, David Koresh, Ted Bundy's "disciple", Leopold and Loeb, and various other personas male AND female. History has seen how more dominant personalities tend to swallow those of others in their group, embuing them with a sense of moral righteousness as they go about their often deadly deeds. As the defence's expert remarked in Law and Order, solidarity is a powerful force that can make people (especially teens) suspend their other scruples, so long as they feel that they belong. We know this is prevalent abroad. Question is, how long before we see similar patterns in our teens?

In a way I guess I was lucky, because I never needed to belong to a "cool" group (and trust me, in private schools there are always cliques). Early on I accepted the fact that I was too nerdy to fit in with the cool ones and therefore sought (and found) other outcasts, geeks and misfits. Of course, once in awhile we'd think about what it would be like to be part of a cooler gang, but then someone would start another round of DnD and the whole thing would fly out the window.

Looking at the teens now (and trying hard not to be judgemental) I see that there is the need to conform, to belong to something even if it means doing something they may not totally agree with, though thankfully nothing as bad as the ribbing and degradation poor Agnes had to face in Law and Order. Barring the occasional brawl or accidental murder (which doesn't really fit with today's topic) I'd say Malaysian kids are still quite good natured.

I just hope we stay that way.


P/S: On an unrelated note, how's this for a real life serial rapist? Award for sicko of the year, perhaps?


Monday, July 12

Redemption Part Two: Jacob's Ladder, Reviewed

When we seek atonement for our mistakes (either perceived or actual) often we strive to make amends to the person we feel we've wronged, yet at the same time we forget to forgive ourselves. This sounds harder than it is, actually. We tell people to let go all the time without realising that for two simple words, they carry a whole lot of weight.

Forgiveness and letting go are also themes explored in Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder. Filmed in 1990, it tells the story of Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins in a smashing role) a Vietnam war vet who begins to have strange experiences after enduring a near fatal wound in battle. As the visions get weirder, he begins to realise that not all is what it seems with his life, and that the reality he seeks to cling to so badly may just be another illusion. Based on a screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin, I would have to say that after watching this, suddenly Night Shyamalan doesn't seem so hot anymore.

I would be remiss if I were to include spoilers of any kind in this review, simply because I think anyone who enjoys a cerebral yet disturbing journey into life (and death) would do well to catch it. What director Adrian Lyne has done with the film is effectively weave a tale so taut and intriguing you don't mind the deliberately slow pace, and every little thing that is said, every little flashback takes on new meaning as the end ultimately reveals itself. The viewer becomes enthralled with Jacob's descent into seeming insanity, his paranoia, loves, hurt and finally redemption. Jacob's Ladder deals with our human tendency to hang on, even when letting go is the best option. There is a lesson embedded in the movie, but it never gets too heavy handed in the delivery. Louis (Danny Aiello in a noteworthy performance), Jacob's chiropractor says, "if we cling to life, then we see demons tearing it away from us, but if we let go...we see angels," and perhaps that, in essence is what this movie tries to say.

As compelling as the story is, credit has to be given to the director for making very wise casting decisions. Tim Robbins is perfect as the disoriented, paranoiac Jacob, while Elizabeth Pena's turn as the sensual Jezebel provides the sexual foil to his character. Of course, much credit has to be given to Danny Aiello for his portayal of Louis, the cherubic almost-father figure. The characters work well in the context of the film, lending it a believability even when the faceless demons make their entrance and begin to systematically destroy Jacob's world. A mention has to be made of the appearance of Macaulay Culkin in a pre-Home Alone role, before things started going downhill for him. As Jacob's dead son Gabe, it is the chemistry apparent between the two that above all else, makes the audience feel and more importantly, empathise with Jacob's pain. Even Ving Rhames and Eriq La Salle drop by as supporting characters, making this a historically interesting film to watch as well.

At the end of the day, Jacob's Ladder isn't perfect, by any means. There is a self-involvement in the film that borders on the autistic, as if nothing else matters but what Jacob is going through. While this may tick off some viewers it is ultimately necessary, and the slow pacing may turn off people used to MTV quick cuts. Perhaps one of the biggest flaws of the movie is the sudden expository conversation at the end, which kind of spoils the whole buildup, but still doesn't detract from the impact of the final five minutes. Jacob's Ladder is a gem in its own right, a precursor to the whole twist-at-the-end genre of films that suddenly became so popular. Its contribution to films like Sixth Sense and others of its ilk is undeniable, and if you're ever a fan of Night Shyamalan, you'd do well to seek this little film out, and add it to your collection.

Ash.ox gives Jacob's Ladder a 4 out of 5.


Sunday, July 11

Drive: Part Two

Markers in our lives come in many forms, shapes and sizes. Sometimes they're things we have, the clothes we wear or the people we meet. Often they're most noticeable when something feels different even when it's familiar, the way a song means different things when you're alone after some time being with someone. Whatever they are for the individuals, markers (like bookmarks) usually herald the end of an era of sorts, and the beginning of another. They're transitory placeholders to remind us that we're moving on, even when we don't necessarily want to (the way almost all change begins anyway) and that inevitably life DOES go on.

In a way, I think I encountered two such markers today. The first was when I was watching Malaysian Idol this afternoon, and saw that TV3 will be turning 20 this year. To a lot of people, it may not mean much (understandably, of course) but to me it suddenly made me realise how much time's gone by since I was that chubby faced kid sitting impatiently in front of the telly in my family's rented house in Kajang, waiting for the first signal from STMB (what TV3 was originally known as) to be broadcast. Everything came back in a rush, from the colour of the walls (beige) to where the TV was placed in the hall right down to what I'd had done since I came back from kindergarten that day (made friends with a boy named Ronald, him and me loved Spiderman). As I waited for that first telecast (can't you just tell I'm a TV addict) that would usher in series like Automan, Matthew Star and Knight Rider, I was so...excited, breathless even. Back then the future was still far away, in that cloudy space where cars flew, people shot lasers out of their armbands and like in every other show, there always was a happy ending.

How different things turned out to be.

As I came back from the jaunt into my mind's Vault O' Memories, holding my Xbox controller and gaping at the scenes from Oshin that was being screened, something in me let out a soft chime, or maybe it was a beep. It was as if a curtain fell at that point along with a card saying "that's all folks" on the stage that is my life, and no matter how much I'd have loved to feel so excited like that again, regular programming continues in this continually broadcasted story that is Ash's Life.

The second marker I passed as I was driving earlier this evening with a group of friends back after running some errands. As the car swung in and out of various areas in PJ, I couldn't help but think of my previous entry on roads, and how though we pass through the same tracks at different parts of our lives, the meanings become different. It's as if the needle on the record player reads the grooves differently, sometimes until it feels like we never really knew what was recorded in the first place.

I remembered, though. Remembered the breathless excitement of going to fetch someone, or to see her at a particular place before she had to leave again. Driving through the rain, racing against time, getting lost and then laughing about it over supper, those long treks not knowing where we'd end up, the unfamiliarity of the area (back then) and then always, the sense of coming home.

Something I'd not felt, not in a long while. But then someone honked, the curtains fell and I was back on the federal highway trying to remember that feeling, and realising that that period in my life was already over, and that like a well-loved book we always go back to certain pages in our lives, if only to re-read our favourite parts (so now I guess at least some people will know what some of my favourite parts are).

So here's a toast to markers, those unspoken, sometimes forgotten milestones we place (or are placed for us) in life. Nights like these, when it's cold and the silence looms (does silence ever do anything but loom) so oppresively you feel like you're the most alone person in the world (or at least your apartment block) they're always there, carrying little bits of sunshine and stolen, golden moments of bliss, forever in freeze frame, and as perfect as we remember living them.

Goodnight, folks.


Friday, July 9

Effing The Ineffable

I have a theory: that all of us, at some point or other in our lives find (and then usually lose) at least one Great Love. Yes, that's with capitals. You know the ones I mean. They're the people who make everything feel right when they're with us, and then when fate decides that they leave we get all topsy turvy, like someone pulled the ground out from under our feet. They're the ones who give us our first (and perhaps only) taste of heart-pounding, earth shattering, pulse-inducing love. Some of us are actually lucky enough to keep our Great Loves, but usually we find that more often than not they're more slippery than an eel in oil.

There are those who believe that for everyone in the world who's lonely there's a "One" waiting somewhere near the horizon. In this parallel universe they believe in, it takes a fortuitious combination of luck, timing and effort before we suddenly stumble upon this mythical creature and then, as the story goes, start living Happily Ever After. Buying into this theory requires that you become familiar with Joseph Campbell's principle of the mythopoeic quest: that the hero requires a stalwart group of companions, braves and wins through the darkest of obstacles and finally triumphs over the great Quest in the end.

A nice theory, if I actually bought it. Sadly, in the past year or so (after losing a GL of my own) I've realised that the cynicism I acquired recuperating from that loss (oh and that merits a loong story of its own) has spawned some other problems of its own. For one thing, it's drastically affected my relationships with people. Without being actually conscious of it, I now draw invisible barriers between everyone I meet. There's a sense of absolutism, as if I can only give out a certain amount of myself (say, 5 percent) to these people without feeling like compromising something. Now before anyone rushes to tell me how unhealthy this is, I'd like to say yes, I know. Also, that I'm working on it. Now on the plus side, doing this gives me the ability to become extremely objective in times of stress (akin to retreating to a sort of neutral zone where I can view the issue with complete detachment). The price of this seeming boon is that I now have difficulty relating, sharing and opening up to the people I care about.

Yes, they've complained countless times about how I suddenly clam up and not tell anyone anything. It's hindered me in forming close ties with other people (since I'm always compartmentalising them) and to a certain extent, prevents me from actually being a good friend and confidante. That aside, I've had people recently ask me if I don't believe in this concept of "love".

Actually, I do. Just not in the whole "One" thing. The way I see it, perhaps these Great Loves were never really meant to stay with us. Thanks to the Ineffable Cosmic Design (aka God?) these individuals come into our lives simply for us to learn something from them, exchanging electrons, protons, body fluids and what have you. Then they leave, sometimes breaking our hearts in the process but almost always initiating a change in us, though the directions said change takes depends wholly on ourselves.

So in the end, I guess we have the choice to make our own "Ones" out of the people we meet. Though I'm tempted so just "eff the ineffable" and forget everything, I understand that sometime in the future I will get better, although it involves a lot of effort on my part. I harbour no illusions, and no ill will. Maybe once I've settled the other responsibilities life entails I can pick up where I left off almost a year and a half ago...

..and start, well, feeling again. For now though, there's tomorrow. And honestly that's as far as I can see.



Thursday, July 8

Censorship and Careers

Tiring. That's the day in a word. It's like my karma scale went to a negative 10 in the past week, and I'm paying for all manner of bullshit that's happened (mostly my fault but I won't lose any more of the few friends I have telling the world, will I?)

Earlier today I helped draft a letter today to be sent to the vice chancellor, asking (demanding, if you ask me)for me and my four brothers-in-arms to be given full lecturer status. I guess for the four of us trapped in the rut we are now, it was high time we found out if the university's even willing to discuss our position. My favourite part of the letter was this small paragraph at the conclusion (which eventually got censored by the dean):

(Translated from the BM)

"The factors we have outlined above have brought about a period of low morale, and therefore it would not be far fetched to say that at some point we would have to consider employment outside the university, not because we have lost the inclination to serve the institution, but simply because we feel our interests will continue to be overlooked.."

Needless to say, the paragraph (and one of the aforementioned factors) were cut. There seems to be a tendency to not letting anyone express any kind of dissatisfaction to the bigwigs in my uni, even if it means bringing more detriment to the faculty. Honestly, are they even aware of how unattractive people view a job teaching in a public university these days? Sure I may sound like I'm blowing my own horn, but if me and my friends leave, the faculty would be in deep, deep shit, for the simple reason we do most of the things around here. We host seminars, organise faculty activities, bring in industry contacts when the seniors are busy chasing their own consulting jobs..I'm aching to see what they'd do when they realise that honest, dedicated help is hard to get these days.

So this is why I ended up in a seminar in KL tonight. I needed to scout my options and find some sort of backup plan. My life (fucked though it may be) is not yet over, and there are tons of things to do, and responsibilities to fulfill. I don't know where I'll end up, but at least I'll put up a hell of a fight before I let this particular institution walk all over me.



Wednesday, July 7

Atonement and Redemption: One

Redemption, like anything else worth having, has to be earned.

The Ox is back. Chastened, ashamed, regretful, meek, even. There is much to be sorry for, and plenty to do in the way of reparation. I was tempted to give in and silence the blog forever, but then I realised that the lesson I learnt needs to be shared, and that running away never solves anything.

Perhaps the full import of what I've done may never be known. There needs to be time before I can even remember what I did without flinching. There's always a price to pay, and sometimes it costs more than we can ever expect.

That is part of the lesson. There are others: facing up to the responsibility, admitting faults, putting the money where the mouth is. A friend told me I should stop talking, and start doing. Perhaps, more than anything this is where I should start.

So yes, I'm back. To my readers I apologise for the confusion, and the ambiguity. There is much to be done, and though I am in no way worthy of your support, I accept it with thanks.

To redemption, and new beginnings.


Sunday, July 4

Six Feet Under

Cliches and bullshit.

All of it. You try to look at yourself in the mirror, and all you see is the remnants of something that used to be good, or at least worthy of respect. Instead where they once were you see the exact thing that you promised to never turn into.

And honestly, it makes you sick to your stomach. You remember all those wise words of advice, the pseudo-intellectual bullshit you spout trying to cover up all your foibles, fears, flaws. There's no difference between you and the rest of them. Hypocrisy is such a sweet, sweet drug.

In the end, it's all the same.
And in the end, you have to live with the things you do.

Until further notice, the Insane Ox will be offline.



Friday, July 2

Spiderman 2: Reviewed!

2004 is definitely the year of the comics to movie adaptation. Sure, we had to endure the likes of The Punisher, but there was also the above average Hellboy, and now Sam Raimi shows us how it's really done with the awesome Spiderman 2.

Before anyone gets any hackles raised, there will be NO spoilers in this review. Okay?

While the first Spiderman was a mixed bag, everyone generally agreed that it was on the whole a rather good show. The sequel just goes to prove that with a good script and creative team, it's not too hard to make something that not only pays hommage to the long tradition that are the comics (and their fans) but also palatable to anyone whose only knowledge of the titular hero is limited to what they remember of the cartoons (and the Electric Company, of course). On both these counts, Spiderman 2 delivers.

There have been some reviewers on the net who take fault with the direction and plotline of the film. I have to disagree. Thanks to a masterful choice for a screenplay writer (Alvin Sargent), the inclusion of Michael Chabon in the screenwriting team and Sam Raimi's excellent juxtaposition of humour, action, drama and even horror, Spiderman 2 is everything a comic adaptation should be and I'm inclined to agree with Roger Ebert when he says that it's the best superhero movie made since Superman (and that particular movie is as old as I am!).

Of course, this review would be remiss if I neglected to mention the magic that the returning actors bring to the film. It's such a relief to see them all again (yes, even Tobey) and the intriguing thing is that they've all grown up. Even in the context of a film about a man with spider-like powers swinging high above the NY skyline, we believe in these characters because they are real. Spidey has immense problems with self image (like any other bloke), MJ seeks a stable love and like in real life there are never any absolutes. We have to find our own solutions in the shades of gray that permeate our lives. The inclusion of Alfred Molina as Doc Ock caused some people to worry (as did the choice of him for a villain, initially) but it is evidently a wonderfully gifted casting decision. Molina never lets his character get TOO over the top and as a result he too, is believable (as believable as a comic book villain gets, anyway). As usual, it wouldn't be a true Sam Raimi flick if he didn't include his two staples, brother Ted (who is Jonah Jameson's aide) and Bruce "The Chin" Campbell (this time appearing as a polite but irritating usher, come to think of it is there ANY Raimi flick that doesn't have the dude?).

Much has been said about the usage of CGI in comic adaptations (remember the rubber men fighting in Blade 2?) but in this case I'd say they nailed it on the head. Spiderman swings, swoops and dives in exactly the way we'd always imagined he would, Doc Ock proves to be more menacing than even I imagined and the battles are chunky, explosive and would look at home in the pages of any comic book. The special effects are there to help drive the story, they never intrude, and in the end it is a story well told.

I could go on and on about how Spiderman 2 is going to set the template for future adaptations, and how it has raised the bar higher for such films. Never again will we be content with mediocre, hurried cash-cow adaptations (who can say Catwoman?) and Hollywood will have to learn a thing or two from the guy who gave us The Evil Dead. For now, suffice to say that like any good superhero flick, the action is good, the actors yummy, and there's plenty of the magic to make anyone who even knows who Spiderman is jump for joy when they see this movie.

Hell, I almost cried (yes I am a wuss) at some scenes, but it's all good. If you ever only see one superhero flick this year, make it Spiderman 2. You won't regret it.

Ash.ox gives Spiderman 2 a 5 out of 5.