Sunday, May 31, 2009

Heroine of the Day: Syarifah Anita Ibrahim

Inspiration, sometimes, comes from the most surprising of sources. It hits you when you know it not, it needles its way in when you thought about it the least, and it drives you to new heights that you never did think was possible.

Sometimes.

At other times, it is as clear as the light of dawn breaking the silence of the night.

Not unlike that light itself, it doesn't really come to you like a runaway train. Rather, it grows on you. It permeates you, slowly, but surely, making you feel good and better about yourself. It's not a bad feeling, but it is not the 'not a bad feeling' that I want to write about. It is what comes after that interests me.

Upon further reflection, the first time I met Ani, I couldn't say I was spellbound, or starstruck, or anything of that sort. Not that I mean it in a negative way; in fact, from the off, I could safely say that she is one of the most beautiful girls I've ever seen in my life. That's a fair compliment, I think, since I sift through my fair share of God's greatest creations. Strangely enough, I wasn't attracted to her in that same instance, certainly not in the same way that I kinda went 'ga-ga' about my ex, who I also met in uni. On the outside, at least, it's safe to say that Anita wouldn't necessarily be short of suitors.

Nevertheless, it wasn't during the first moments of orientation that I came to realise (not merely know). It wasn't even during the months or years of university, of the crossed paths, spoken words, exchanged jokes, and “I've been trying to call you at this number!” “Oh, no, that's my old, old number! The number before my old number!” Truth be told, it was far, far closer towards the end, when I felt that I was beginning to truly understand and get her. It was a birthday dinner at TGI Friday. Small, cozy, intimate, with only four or five others. Perhaps the experience was of a similar sort for her, too, though I never did know.

I came to realise of the sincerity that lies in her heart, one that has, as is wont with the human condition, been hurt and broken time and again by events somewhat unimaginable to some and experienced only by the battle-hardened ones. Yet, she soldiers on, and I came to realise not only of her sincerity, but also of the strength that lies within her. Behind a strong man is an even stronger woman, and though I don't really have an idea of what her status is, the (would-be) man in front of her would have some way to go to match Ani's spirit, verve, and generosity. You feel as if you can talk to her miles and miles away, and yet be touched by the intimacy and her laughter.

Oh, her laughter. You know how some people laugh a big laugh? Sometimes, you feel that they're laughing because they're trying to be polite. They over-laugh to compensate for the under-funniness of your joke. You can hear it, and you can feel it. But with Ani, every time she laughs, she laughs a big one, one that almost sounds like a fake one, but doesn't feel like one. Who knows, maybe I really am that hilarious, and everything that comes out from my mouth really is golden (which is probably another reason why I like her). With Ani, she laughs and laughs until you wonder, “Oh, am I that funny?” And you smile a little smile, which grows into an even bigger one when you realise the joy and happiness that she really is getting from you. Even if she's not laughing, she'd be smiling a smile that will make you smile. It's all a big circle of happiness, one that may last a moment or more, but a precious one nonetheless.

Simply put, life feels better and happier with her around than without.

Oh, she's not perfect. She can be late as hell, a most dispunctual person, if dispunctual can be argued to be a word, that may well rival my own status on that front (I once turned up three hours late for a four-hour class...). And perhaps her openness and friendliness could work against her at times, since people (me included) are bound to disappoint, inadvertently or otherwise. Nevertheless, even in this context, the word 'sincere' is just too perfect; a strand of thought has it that its root word is 'sin cera', meaning 'without wax'. Sculptors of the old days would patch up the mistakes they made with wax, and a 'perfect' sculpture is said to be one that is without wax. Even if I would be given the wax to put on her, I wouldn't know where to begin, not because there are too many flaws to cover up, but because I'd have to think long and hard to look for them (just like I'm doing now).

With such praise lavished, then, some of you may wonder...why aren't I with her? Sounds like the perfect lady, right? I may contend that, in a personal joke, she is already my 'Queen' (and I her 'King') in the Kingdom of Middle Lame. Beyond this border, though, and into the real world...the simple answer would be I don't know. I do love her and miss her, but it's a very different kind of love, and a very different kind of miss. Certainly very, very different to the ones I feel/have felt before/will feel in the future. You know, that kind of love. With Ani, it's...different. How different? Very, very different. Maybe in the future, it will change...but as it stands, it is different. Probably because of that, ours is one that may well last longer and brighter into the future, long after the actual kinds of romantic love we felt/feel/will feel for others (may) have crashed and burn. I do not doubt that she feels the same way about others, so there's little risk of exclusivity here, but it merely means that other people's lives are just that little bit more blessed with Ani around.

I certainly hope so, because my life without Ani would certainly be less inspirational. Without a constant, unstinting source of support, friendship and laughter, my life would certainly be less happy. And with Ani, I also feel that I matter. Even if the stars may fall and hit me on my head, someone out there (outside of my family...hopefully!) will care. The knowledge...nay, the realisation that someone, somewhere, out there, on this planet, who is probably thinking about you right now at this very moment in time, cares about you, when they don't have to and aren't obliged to, that you matter to them in a very important way, because without you their life would be a duller place, so much so that it's a friendship worth making cross-continental direct calls to preserve...isn't that a form of inspiration in its own way?

That someone cares.

Sometimes, perhaps that's all we ever really need in the world.

To know that someone cares.

Thank you, Ani.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

As I Lay Here Dying

As I lay here dying,
I wonder will become of me
as I pass away.
Slowly...slowly...into oblivion, into nothingness,
into the darkness.

As I lay here dying,
I wonder of the possibilities of the life after,
whether it is a world for me, a world
fr the undying, a world of blooming flames.

I wish for the dreams to come true, to
float for me like fluttering butterflies,
For just like butterflies, dreams never
stop fluttering, winging in and out of
sight, out of vision, out of existence.

If seeing is believing, then believing can
only exist by way of existence itself, a
spider that weaves a web of deception, of deceit,
of Iago madness.
Yet with a southerly wind, it blows to pieces
Its fragility as soft as a flowers.

Like a flower

From the smallest of seeds, life grows, with a single thought, and a simple will,
life begins,
But life ends, as streams grows into rivers,
For to the sea the river runs,
The big blue sea, a blue dream of existence.

As I lay here dying, I
wonder if they know. If she knows.
The emptiness of my heart setting it free, flying away as it tosses the
burden of yesterday, of the past, of
the present or the future.

As I lay here dying,
I realise that like the butterfly, like the
web, like the river and the flower,
like a dream that blinks beyond existence
and subconsciousness.
Deja vu of a remembrance I could
never recall. I've been dreaming
all along of hopes and wishes
that matters not, of loves and
lives never made, of saints and angles
that comes only when I couldn't see.

I've been dreaming of a life that
never was. Unbridled joy, untempered
happiness, unbearable relations.
I see the sky above me, seeing
it come closer and closer to me.
I've dreaming of tears that drops,
of the rain that falls, of stories told,
of memories lost.

As I lay here dying, I realise
that I've been dreaming of a
dream.
The dream of a dream
that could.
Never be.

Salvation Army

I clicked the mouse, dragging the video clips backwards and forwards, trying to find the right cutting point for this scene. It plays on my mind, over and over.

Well, duh; I've been playing it over and over right in front of my very eyes.

Nevertheless, long after I had shut down the computer, and made my way back to my bed. Trying to find my way back to sleep heaven, I still find myself mulling it over and over. Turning my mind even further back, I realised what it was that had previously plagued my friend.

The documentary tells the tale of a refugee kid from Myanmar. We follow him as he goes for his medical check-up, plays football with his friends, and...attend religious class. Well, I am not sure what sort of class it was (if it was a class to begin with), but we do have a Christian lady standing in front of the class, and telling little children not to forget to pray to Jesus Christ every night before they sleep, and every morning when they wake up. I watched with disinterest (I believe it was the third almost four hours worth of footage), before my mind momentarily flickered back, and really inadvertently paid attention to what was going on.

How likely is it that a Myanmar kid is born and bred a Christian? Aren't most of them Buddhists to begin with? More to the point, is she trying to convert to them? It wouldn't be unheard of, given how crazy some can be on this front.

It was then that I realised how ignorant I was about Myanmar. Later on, I did a quick Google search, and apparently there is a history of persecution of Christians in the country, which makes for an interesting enough reading on another day. Nevertheless, in the moment when I wondered whether I was witnessing refugee kids being converted or whether its merely a continuation of the exploration of their beliefs, it did bring to mind of how far I would go.

It reminded me of the dilemma that my afore-mentioned friend was previously in. We had shot a video together for a cigarette company earlier this year. It wasn't a direct advert or anything like that, but needless to say, it is something that would help to further advance the sales of cancer sticks. Though he didn't tell me at the time, I later read on his blog that he had, on some level, did some soul-searching, wondering whether it was right for him to make such a video. He himself is a smoker, but would advancing such ideals in such a way unto others be something he's comfortable with?

And now we're here, finally, at the main point of this post: how right is it for us to offer our salvation unto others?

How right is it for us to force our own beliefs unto others, however sincere we may be? I suppose, in a way, that would apply to almost all the ways in which we are brought up. Not just on religious terms, but also within other spheres and aspects of society. The indoctrination of what are essentially the values of others.

I suppose in that way, I open myself up to the same self-examination: are my values something that I had sought for myself? Or is it the Qur'an lessons that I had from young? Truth be told, I had my moments of questioning. It is, I believe, a very fine tradition encouraged from the early days of not only Islam, Christianity, and other religions, but also humanity itself. After all, if the earliest human beings had not wondered why, figured out how, and thought through the whats, we wouldn't quite be where we are here today, would we?

I had went through that, and in a way, I still am. I finished reading the Qur'an twice, but did not understand it (Arabic, dammit!). I am currently making my through it once again (alternating, it has to be said, with '101 Habits of Successful Screenwriters' right now), but in English this time. In some ways of my own, I am making much progress in terms of trying to understand more of my own religion. It is one that I am have lived with my whole life, and yet at times it feels like a stranger to me. Figuring out the difference between cultural influences and religious ones, between Modern Islam (I'm looking at you, my London-Turkish friends), Islam Hadhari (ditto, Pak Lah) and the rest, it is not an easy task. There is, it has to be mentioned, a lot of bullshit to sift through. A shit-load.

Nevertheless, one truth holds true, and rings louder than the rest: that my understanding is my own understanding. My belief is my own fort, my knowledge my weapon of choice, my strength my defence.

That my salvation is my own.

It is not what others have thrown unto me, but what I have found by myself. I realise that whatever the answer, it is something that we should figure out by ourselves. It is not to jam down throats with, either our own or that of others.

As I shut my eyes and turn in for the night (morning?), I pray that people everywhere, Myanmar refugee kids included, will be given the chance to find their own peace, their own answers, their own salvation.

Assalamualaikum.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Angels and Demons

I almost literally flopped into bed, feeling relatively satisfied with the day's work. Though I hasten to add; 'day' is incorrect. I had stayed up the whole night, making good progress with a documentary I am editing. That process itself raised a whole load of other issues that I would exercise my mental muscles on, but that would be another day. After going straight for 18 hours (I left the editing room at 10am and went straight to Korean class), all I could think of was bed.

Before I just about managed to drop almost-dead, I summoned enough strength to send a message to a friend, so I had met the previous evening. “She wouldn't believe that I'm just about to sleep now,” was the thought that made me smile as I pressed send.

Barely seconds later, the phone rang, and it was her. “Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide,” wasn't what I had expected to hear. “Fuck,” I thought to myself, and then said softly on the phone. Then I thought, fuck that, let it out, and I did. “FUCK!” I half-shouted, not really caring about my roommates at the moment in time. “He committed suicide? The former president?!” I continued along this vein for a short while, truly finding the news to be unbelievable. Incredible. Impossible. You name it, I thought of it as I also mentioned the names of several prophets from several religions in vain.

For those who are not in the know, the former president of South Korea committed suicide early Saturday morning. He and his family has been, for some time now, involved in a high-profile bribery case that has, when Kim Yu-na is not busy winning ice skating world championships, almost totally dominated the headlines. The case appeared to be heading towards an interesting climax, before he preempted it with his own death.

Lest it be thought that I am a sympathiser to the former president, I am not. In fact, I would admit that my understanding and knowledge of Korean politics is limited, at best. With my school, the Korea National University of Arts, embroiled in an interesting scandal of its own with the current government and its head, Lee Myung-bak (which I'll write about soon-ish), my interest has been jacked up that bit more. Even before that, I have good impressions of former president Roh, and wondered what could have driven him to the point where he would take his own life.

And this is where you don't have to be Korean to have a measure of this issue: a former head of state committed suicide precisely because of his implication in a bribery scandal. Think about it: when was the last time you heard of a head of state, former or current, taking their own life? They've been shot at, assassinated, bombed, died by way of natural causes or by accident...but taking their own life? Though you may come up with other answers, the only one that jumped to my mind then and now is Adolf Hitler, and he had plenty to answer for. Though former president Roh's situation is not the best, I would say he's looked upon far more favourably compared to Herr Hitler.

Which made me wonder about how he must have felt. “I hate the sin, but not the sinner,” someone once told me. I'll be damned if that same exact quote didn't resurface more than once at this moment in time somewhere in Korea. Which leads me to think: do I hate the sin, or the sinner?

After all...an Asian head of state implicated in bribery and corruption? Damn, you could just about take your pick from any Asian country of your choosing. Almost anyone, at almost any point in time. Hell, in my country, you don't even have to pick. With the amount of perceived self-interest that they have for themselves compared to actually serving the public with honour and dignity, you'd have a dossier thicker than an Argos catalogue.

Fact is, once I have reached this point of the post, I am not sure why I started writing this to begin with. There is no clear conclusion, no clear answers that can satisfy my questions to begin with. If Roh meant to silence people with his death, he raised more questions in my head than ever before. Some are about him: why suicide? What could have specifically driven him to kill himself? Bribery and corruption, yes, but, though sizeable, it's not exactly RM534.8 million, is it? Even if the guilt weighs heavily in the heart, is suicide worthy of contemplation?

What is the difference between him and other people? What's the difference between Roh Moo-hyun, a man who championed anti-corruption during his term in office, and the other leaders from other countries who also sang similar war chants, within Asia and without? Does it lie merely within the cultural differences of countries? Or is there something more?

Finding life unbearable, did Roh find salvation in taking his own life? Or was it already at a stage where he was condemned regardless? Who is able to give him redemption or salvation?

Ultimately, though, what is the difference between the sin and the sinner?

Is there an identifiable one to begin with?

And how would we know?

Friday, May 22, 2009

50 Million Dollars

What would you do with 50 million dollars?

It certainly is something that is worth thinking about, no?

Perhaps it could be further defined; after all, 50 million, within the current economic climate, is not something that is too much to shout about. People have felt the pinch with a bigger bank balance than that; car companies have applied for bankruptcy with ten times the amount still in the bank and aid; and if current estimates and rumours turns out to be true, it would not even buy you one half of an Italian-based Brazilian footballer.

Nevertheless, despite the obvious craziness of the situations mentioned above, it is still quite a lot. Even removing the actual economic realities makes for a telling pointer. People still, as a marker, consider the million dollar point to be one where dreams can come true. Even if the actual value of it doesn't hold up in the real world, it still remains the goal. This is especially true, even now in the time and space of $300million movies.

And that's just one million.

What would you do with fifty?

How would your world change with fifty million dollars? Let's not think of the now, for the present is too tempting. The future, it is, we're talking about. Or rather, I am. After all, we all spend all our time working our asses off, and why? For money? Money, of course, is the simplest of answers. It is, the most immediate and the most present. We can touch it, feel it, show it, and use it as a measure to see how far we have come.

For me, however, it's more of a measure of how much more I have to go. I am not directly interested in the present, I always think of the future. For that matter, I am not interested in money itself; rather, I want the happiness, ease and accessibility that comes with money. I do not doubt that this is unoriginal, for many of us feel the same way.

In other words, I am interested in what money can do for me. And not just for me. My future will hopefully include a wife and a couple of kids, at least.

Fifty million dollars would do that. It would secure not just my future, a future I am willing to fight for along the same currency rates and bank balance, but the future of my offspring, my offspring's offsprings...hell, spent wisely, it might even provide for generations of different branches of my family.

With one simple yes, fifty million dollars could kick start my family, and lift it to the next level, and beyond, and stay there for a long, long time.

Fifty million dollars.

Something worth thinking about, yes?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vicky Cristina Seoul

Our lead actress, Cherish Maningat Ramirez, wants to go home...

The director of photography and co-director, Veknesuaran Thiagarajan (or Vicky for short), handles the Steadicam with aplomb.

How many people does it take to get a single shot? The answer's four (note the boom mic)

Me, Vicky and Im Sophea, the sound recorder, checks the shot to make sure our shadows and whatnot does appear. Navigating the shadows proved to be more difficult than previously thought...

Kharag Penpa: the lost Tibetan cowboy in Seoul.

Making sure that we covered all the shots we wanted...

One of the money shots in the film; at least the camera wasn't dropped this time...

Victim
Starring Cherish Maningat Ramirez and Lee Su-hyun.
Directed and photographed by Veknesuaran Thiagarajan.
Co-directed by Fikri Jermadi.
Written by Fikri Jermadi and Veknesuaran Thiagarajan.
Edited by Adi Iskandar and Veknesuaran Thiagarajan.
Sound design by Im Sophea.
Art direction by Shirley Wong.
Lighting direction by Maz Irwan.
Produced by Veknesuaran Thiagarajan and Jeong Searl-gi.