Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cultured


I walked past the streets of Vindaloo, breathing in the air as I did so. It wasn’t a particularly breezy moment, and neither was the smell particularly appealing, but there is a certain sense of identity that comes with the smell. I smiled; until someone get Smell-O-Vision just right, that will always be something cinema will miss out on.

His footsteps aligned with mine, our steel-capped boots dropping to the ground and almost just as quickly raised themselves in metronomic synchronicity. The fidelity pleased me.

We managed to walk for quite a bit, discussing the latest ins and outs of each others lives. It was, for the most part, nothing more than small talk, but it is these talks that make up the relationships. Sum, part, whole. I have missed that boat when it comes to some, and I will not miss it again.

I made quite an effort to arrange tonight’s meeting. Our schedules don’t match and mesh, though having said that, in my case, it is quite difficult to discern which one of us had been the guiltier party. Should I be inclined to spend time on such useless endeavours, the judge would unreservedly claim me to be the guilty party. I can’t complain.

He mentioned about the lack of movement at work. His career worries him. He had been with the same company for a number of years, and had not been promoted more than once in those years. In an industry where such advancement is not only welcome, it is necessary for him to seriously consider what his options may be. I kept my counsel largely to myself, partly because I do not see what others see. I can only give advice based on what I know, but sometimes that is not sufficient. Sometimes (and this is the large part of the reason why I don’t counsel), people just need someone to talk to.

We slowed our journey in front of the electronics store. I have no TV; I have been considering purchasing one not too long ago. I had realized then of the futility of such a procurement, since I consider it early if I manage to get home before midnight. The nature of the beast has bent down and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I’d be wasting my money on it.

For now.

Still, there’s no reason to not look. I crouched slightly, gripping my knees with both my hands, and staring intently at the screen beyond the screen of the window. My friend had also stopped, attracted as he was by the vividness of life on the TV.

He probably had related to it, one way or another. They’re showing a show of a man travelling in China. It can be defined clearly under the travelogue genre, though such genres are not quite as fixed as some may consider them to be. In this case, however, it is the most interesting of beasts: a travel show set in Asia and hosted by an Asian…American. Probably. I could not hear the volume, but nevertheless, it begs the question of what is orientalism if Orientals themselves practice it?

Not only that, but the inclusion of what appears to be a shadow puppet theatre surprised me even more. Certain considered to be the most local of local forms of entertainment, once again, the fluidity and dynamics of culture had not allowed it to remain still and fixed in any single geographic spot.

My dear readers, I have written an unpublished book on the making of a film. The film itself had a strong protagonist who performs wayang kulit. Clearly being one of the main focuses of the film, I set out the introduction chapter as a research essay of sorts, looking at the history of this venerable art form. Influences from other parts of the Asian region was clear and undeniable, and it makes me feel proud that my country kept me a part of it.

It is the very definition of what culture is: mixed, dynamic, in constant flow down the stream to an even bigger sea. Even if culture itself is difficult to define. Words can’t be put down to describe it, but…

“Haha,” my friend interjected, breaking my train of thought. “Even that comes from China. You Malays have no culture.”

He walked off, a self-satisfied smirk decorating his face, this Malaysian who proclaims himself to be Malaysian first. Upon realizing that I did not follow suit immediately, he turned and faced me quizzically. He looked at the bouncing gleam of light of his forehead, the lights flickering softly.

I closed my eyes, breathing in the smells of Vindaloo once more, and sighed.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Box


I have a movie stub from a screening of ‘Master and Commander: Far Side of the World’. It was a film made by Peter Weir, and it starred Russell Crowe. My father and I went to watch it at KLCC, and immediately after that, we went to Kinokuniya and bought the book about the making of the film.

This was almost ten years ago. I could just about make out the writings on the ticket stub. It has faded with age.

I believe that we are who we are because of the things that we’ve gone through.

I no longer take many pictures. I do not see or far more importantly, feel the need to. Events I have attended, people I have met, these are memories I have made and retained as naturally as I can, without the aid of digital existence.

I do this because I want to see and experience the world as much as I can. In the past, carrying a camera around with me has made me feel naturally inclined to look at things through the eye of the lens. I wonder about the life of a photographer, a professionally-employed one. They take wonderful photographs of a world in motion, but I wonder how they see the rest of their everyday lives. Do they live for the moment, or do they consider how that moment could be immortalised better with a slight change in lighting conditions? Do they see the bigger picture, or do they frame a part of that picture for the sake of others?

I was driving around the other, downhill from my father’s house. The road was lined with trees. The morning sun was out, and it peeked through the leaves of the said trees. Driving at a certain speed, these formed a pattern of shadows that inked themselves momentarily on my dashboard and hands. Through the windscreen, they created darkened hennas of art. My eyes were fixed on these for a while, considering a close-up shot of my hands as it gripped and moved of its own accord. I saw something, and I wanted to share it with the world.

That is how I work. I see, I communicate. Through that, a work of art that one may somehow call a film will hopefully emerge. That is how I see the world, these random moments.

But these are retained in memories because I don’t want to dilute them. I keep artifacts of events, but I do not wish for the pictures. What are pictures beyond devices used to show others what you saw? I wasn’t interested in sharing my personal life with others.

My mother berates me for this. “You’re having dinner with the president of your university,” she said after my graduation, “you should take pictures. Later you can show others the peoples of your life.” He is indeed the president, but he was formerly my lecturer. Because of that, I never felt the inclination to treat him as anything other than that. I do not wish to take pictures of the two of us, but that did not mean I threw away the ticket stub of the graduation screening I attended with him.

JJ Abrams once said that he bought a box without knowing what is inside it. He bought it at a magic shop. Even though he was curious, he never did open it, because once he did, the magic would definitely be over, and there is no reason to ever wonder what if. This formed the very basis for a lot of his television narrative (though less so for his actual films, funnily enough).

I have a box of the artifacts I have. These are special ones: football match tickets, invitation cards to movie screenings, a card I have made, but never had the chance to give. Only one person knew of this box; I told her that I threw it away. In truth, however, I didn’t. I couldn’t. I feel it’s akin to throwing away the memories I had accumulated, the experiences I had felt, and I didn’t want that. It was special, and I could not throw it away.

It’s not the same as JJ’s box, but I would not open my box, my history, my artifacts, because I don’t want to. The past is the past, and while I try my hardest not to forget, there are certain things I do not wish to revisit.

My history, the true story of how I remember and truly feel about my life, is my own, and no one else’s.