Tuesday, March 30, 2010

HIStory


"There is no "homogeneous" history, and there never will be. History is heterogeneous, and the truth only appears by finding the best evidence and doing your best to develop an interpretation of that evidence. You then publish your book, and await the judgment of your peers—historians who go through intense training and peer review at every stage of their careers. After that, you don't care what some government hack says about your work, because you have earned the respect of people who know what they are talking about. Historians do not spend a decade getting their PhDs so some amateur can tell them what to think about history. One is always humble before the facts, before real history. But there is no need to be humble in the face of a government hurtling down a path that can only have a self-defeating outcome."

Bruce Cumings,
academician.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lotus Flowering


In light of the recent start of the Formula 1 season, I have to applaud the results and efforts of the Lotus F1 team. I had written about this particular venture sometime late last year, and while I stopped short of completely admonishing the team's entry for what I feel are reasons that don't quite fit with Formula 1, as it stands, the team has done quite a good job thus far.

It has to be said that succeeding in Formula 1 is not an easy job, and thus the ability of the Lotus F1 team to get to the grid in Bahrain is a big plus. The fact that they managed to finished that race is a huge bonus, one that establishes their credentials as potentially the best of the new teams thus far. I decided to wait until after the Australian Grand Prix to write of this, because it may well be a one-off, a flash in the racing pan. As it stands, it looks as if Lotus might well flower into a team that could potentially nick a few points off the middle-tier F1 teams.

Let's face it, Lotus is probably not going to win a whole race on merit this season. In short, I think there are three divisions within the current F1 grid: the front-runners like Red Bull and Ferrari, the middle teams like Williams and Sauber, and the tailenders like HRT and Lotus themselves. As such, success should be quantified within this particular context, and I think they have done a stellar job thus far.

Consider the fact that on Sunday, Kovalainen finished as the best of the minnows (albeit two laps down on the next runner, de la Rosa's Sauber). Kovalainen's qualifying lap was over a second quicker than the next minnow team, Virgin, while his own fastest lap of the race is good enough to place him 14th of the 20 drivers who managed to post a meaningful lap at Melbourne. In fact, it is merely two seconds off Vettel's best lap of the race, and was set six laps from the end of the race, suggesting that the car handles well enough towards the end of the race for Heikki to give it a good go. It also suggests that his fitness is nothing to be sniffed at either, and that he has prepared well during the pre-season. Of course, two seconds is actually a bloody age in Formula 1, but it should be considered that for a new team, being two seconds off arguably the fastest team in Formula 1 this season is no mean feat.

In terms of reliability, it is even more impressive: both Trulli and Kovalainen lasted the distance in Bahrain, making sure that they go some way towards Richard Branson being a stewardess for AirAsia. Trulli blotted the copybook with his botched started on Sunday, but it was a hydraulics failure that happens to the best of teams. Kovalainen took the mantle and ran with it; as it stands, he has completed 96.3% of the season's total number of laps, putting him above the rapid German trio of Vettel, Hulkenberg and Sutil, as well as the Sauber duo of de la Rosa and Kobayashi (who has only completed 11 laps, as it turns out). The team as a whole completed more laps than the half-factory team that is Renault.

Stats alone does not a brighter picture paint, but it has suggested that Lotus has gone about their business in a professional and diligent manner. Tony Fernandes himself is still hanging around, which I give him credit for. Based on his earlier quotes, I thought that he might have handed it over to someone else, but he appears to have taken the job of being a team principal seriously enough. When you think of the fate that had befallen USF1, it does put into sharp contrast of the difficulty of starting a brand new Formula 1 team, and in that regards, I think they should be highly commended not just for their efforts, but also for the results on the grid thus far.

Having said that, I wonder how many people do see the successful start that Lotus has made as exactly that: successful. A lot of people still do not understand the intricacies of Formula 1, and as such it means that a place outside of the points may well be seen as a failure. I am not back in Malaysia, and so I cannot accurately gauge the level of comprehension and excitement about Lotus's achievements, but I do hope that sufficient efforts are made to ensure that the good start the team has made thus far is properly recognised. It is still a long way away from what the stated objectives of the entire project are, which is to established a motorsport industry in Malaysia as well as to promote Malaysia itself; on a personal note, it is still not that nice to see the Lotus brand tooling around at the back, given it's proud history. Nevertheless, I feel the good must be commended, and so here I am.

Well-begun, however, is only half-done...

Epilogue Part 1


It was a long, long hour.

I am in the computer room, trying my damnest to log in. However, I couldn't, I suspect, because of the flood of people from all over the country who are also trying to log in. It is frustrating, and somewhat nerve-wrecking. It's the proverbial minutes and hours eating away at you, and in this case...the digestion, is really, really slow.

My blood begins to boil. I hear to clock, hung on the plain, unimaginative wall, ticking its tock away. Tick, tock, tick, tock. It teases me, prodding me with the invisible hands of time. Ha ha, it says, you can't get it. You will not get it. And even when you do, it's going to read a big, huge negative that will cost you more of your life.

Ha ha.


I shut my eyes, concentrating on the computer at hand. I had opened up three other computers, and all three of them had failed to log in. There's a minor jam going on here, all I need to do is to calm down, relax...breathe...

...but I can't. The mere act of closing my eyes makes my own mind run wild. I imagine my friend popping her head in as she passes, and enquiring without any clue as to what I'm doing there at that early time. I would tell her that I'm checking for my results. She would ask me why I'm not checking with my laptop. I'd say that my laptop is not working at that moment. She would ask me why it is not working...at which moment in time I will probably completely lose it and tell her to fuck off.

Except that I wouldn't, because there is no one there. All mere figments of my imagination, but one that is powerful enough for a lasting impression to live on, even if it did last a few moments more than its virtual brethren.

There's nothing and no one here except for me, looking at the screen again, waiting for the indicator at the bottom of Internet Explorer. Internet fucking Explorer. Part of the bane of my existence here; Koreans use mainly Internet Explorer as their weapon of choice. Korean companies design their websites with this browser in mind, meaning that half the time, many Korean websites wouldn't properly load on Mozilla Firefox (or any of the other [superior] alternatives like Chrome or Opera). What a bunch of idiots. Don't they know how weak IE is in the face of Firefox? Had it been a real fire fox, IE wouldn't stand a chance of even getting to the extinguisher...

...no, no. That's not me talking, that's the frustration. The frustration driven by this country, this society, the exams, the results, the hypocrisy and complexity of its make-up, the clock ticking on the...

I turn to look at it. It is now a mere five minutes after I had last checked. How slowly did the time pass. How slowly is this killing me.

The air conditioner hums noisily in the background. I furrow my eyebrows in slight confusion; had it been so for the past hour? I noticed it not, my mind wasn't on it. But now it is, and now it...is. It distracts me, along with the ticking tocker, double-teaming on me in a handicap match of attrition. The submission match of a lifetime at Wrestlemania. It comes at me in full flow, a clothesline that knocks me flying before the referee had even started the match. They say that wrestling is fake. I say it's not real, but in that moment, as I lay on the mat with my teeth knocked out, I couldn't really tell the difference. I struggle to get up...

...and then I'm finally in.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Clash of Civilisations


"But everyone on the pitch was Japanese and that felt a little weird. Your teammates, the opponents, the referees--that was strange."

Shunsuke Nakamura, who returned to the Japanese league after eight years in Europe.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Paro Haseiyo


"Hyeong!" I saw my producer seated halfway across the hall in the cafeteria. He's with someone else, I noticed, as I rushed over to him. I politely introduced myself to him, and turned to my producer.

"I need to get on with the production," I started. "We need to do the telecine as fast as we can. But," I emphasised, "Tony suggested that perhaps if we skip the keycode telecine, and jump straight to HD, we might be able to save a lot of time, even if we spend a bit more money." Doing the keycode telecine means that we'd preserve as much of the original quality as possible, it would take a much longer time to process. Keycode telecine, edit, make a cut list, do the negative cutting, 2K scan, colour correction, done. HD telecine, one the other hand, is something as follows: HD telecine, colour correction, done. Or something like that.

"No, no, I don't think so," came the quick reply.

"How much does HD telecine cost?" It is my money, after all.

"No, it's too expensive."

"How about a ballpark figure? Per minute?"

"No, it's too expensive."

I pushed for a bit more, then gave up. He's my producer, he'll know what to do. He produced 'The Duellist' and 'Typhoon', after all; he'll know best. Got to get used to people handling my (and my government's) money.

****

"You should get a new pair of glasses," she said.

It was something that has been on my mind for a while. I considered putting it off, because a pair might be cheaper to get in Malaysia, but then again, it would be interesting to get a Korean-style pair of glasses. I considered how I might look like with them. Of course, there are many different styles available here, and many of them are also available back home. If you take a closer look at a lot of Koreans, however, there is a particular style favoured by the majority of Korean men: thick, black rimmed frames.

"I've been thinking about it, actually," I answered. "How much do they cost?"

No answer. We were waiting by the side of the road for a taxi, after all, so I suppose her eyes and mind were pre-occupied with getting an available cab. I wasn't really about to be deterred, however. "How much would they cost? 50,000 won?"

Still no answer. "50,000? 100,000 won?" Of course, it depends on the kind of frame and lenses I get, but I still would think that she (who have had a number of pairs since I first met her) would have a ballpark figure.

"I'll take you to Namdaemun. It's not expensive there," was the main reply. Then the taxi came.

****

I waited in turn for my haircut. The old lady was trimming an elderly gentleman's hair, and she was just about done. After he went off to shampoo his own hair, I plonked myself in the seat. "I want to cut my hair short."

No answer. Instead, a blank stare, a glazy look in her eyes, almost. Perhaps she didn't understand.

"Hair, short," I said, in Korean. It was the same thing I have said every time I get my haircut, and it usually does the business. In fact, I've been here before, the haircut before last. I grabbed a big of my hair, stretched it out clearly (it was rather long, so it definitely was clear enough), and demonstrated how much she should remove. "Remove this much, cut this part."

Still...nothing. Then, "I don't understand what you want."

"I want a haircut. Just a short haircut."

"What kind of style do you want?"

It's getting frustrating. "I just want you to cut my hair short. Nothing more. Cut short." 짧게, 짧게, I resorted to using merely words, instead of complete sentences. Perhaps my pronunciation was off; surely she can't go wrong with merely words.

"What kind of style do you want?"

Exasperated, I whipped out my phone, and called my friend. "Tell her I want to cut my hair short. That's it." I passed the phone to the old lady, and what I thought would have taken a short few sentences turned into a not-so-heated conversation between the two. After a while, she passed the phone back to me.

"What did she say?" "Well..." my friend started, "I told her that you want to cut it short, but she wanted to know what style you want. I said, maybe like a Mohican..."

"A Mohican?!" I raised my voice. Why is it so difficult to get a haircut? Hair. Cut. End of story. "I don't want a bloody Mohican, I want a freaking hair cut! Why is it so difficult? Just get the scissors and cut!" I've never been one to be too bothered with my hairstyles; at times, I have had to be metaphorically dragged kicking and screaming to the barber's. Haircuts means money (however big or small), and it also, in a way, means having to fit in with other people's expectations. Others might say that such tendencies reflects our personalities. Our fashion, our clothes, and what not. Mine does exactly that: I don't give a shit. I cut for comfort, not for style. I can make my own style, provided the cut is just a normal enough, decent enough cut.

"Well, she wants to be able to cut to your satisfaction, she said."

"My satisfaction would have been to have my hair cut short!" I'm not an image-conscious Korean bastard, I just want a bloody haircut. Frustrated, bitter, angry, I hung up and got up from the chair.

"Come again with your friend," she had the temerity to say. "I don't understand what you want."

"Fuck you, I'm not coming back here again." That, I definitely know how to say in Korean, with the perfect speech impediments and all that. I bet she understood that.

It was a long, thoughtful walk back home about my position within Korean society. So difficult to get simple answers to simple questions. So difficult to make people understand simple instructions. I need to rent a P2, how much does it cost? Do you know where to get a boom mic? Is this book available in English? Can you please just cut my fucking hair short? Hair. Cut. Short.

Just for good measure, it rained as well.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Failure to Launch


It is a sinking feeling, one that seems to reverberate around the empty shell of my body.

How to explain this? How explain and to let others understand the sense of shock and change to the system that is personal?

In truth, perhaps it is not a reflection of it itself. Perhaps, more to the point, it is one of what had happened before. Even more accurately, what didn't happen before. What had never occurred before. It is a moment, an opportunity, a chance that had passed, and will come around again...

...but not like this.

And so, it costs time. Time, other chances, other opportunities, other possibilities.

But let it. For now, at least, the monkey won't be hanging on my back anymore.

And in truth...in truth, it's such a relief!