Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Love Letter

Do you know how you make me feel?

Every time I see you, the feelings I get makes me freeze for a moment, makes me hold my breath for a short while, even though I wasn’t the one doing the holding. The moment, time, the world, had stopped.

In the seconds when time becomes immemorial, I am reminded ever more of the memorable things I never truly forget. These are the things that keeps me going, the memories I fall into like beds of roses I could wallow in until…until the next time we meet.

My God, you’re beautiful.

Then time moved on, and so do we. The moment lasted maybe just a second, but whatever is in the moment, it lingers into the reality. The moment shared transcended everything else, but...

Then you smile. A smile that have doubtless broken hearts of others, including mine, behind the smile lies what only you and I know. Our eyes meet, and within a single second, the past, the present, and the future merged, sharing everything you and I ever want to say to each other.

You come closer. Perhaps we hug. Perhaps we acknowledge each other with a single nod. Maybe a handshake is in order. Just as likely, you’ll walk past. Inevitably, the closer you come, I brace myself for the beauty that is you.

I take in a deep breath, one I have prepared for. Ah, the smell. Your smell. The perfume, your hair. I close my eyes; that moment again.

We look back at one another. We see each other, eye to eye, heart to heart. I yearn for your touch, your smile, you, the second our attentions switch.

But the moment lingers. My God, you're beautiful, and the feeling remains, the memory I treasure…until the next time.

Life Is That Bengal Tiger

I eventually managed to catch Life of Pi, a film directed by Ang Lee and revered by many for a number of fairly obvious reasons. Great performances from its actors, a number of visually astounding sequences, and the very fact that a junior of mine worked on the film, a fact I popped big for when I saw her name on the end credits list.

Putting that aside, however, I am keen to explore further one of the main central ideas of the film. It should be noted that there will be spoilers in this particular write up, and so you should probably take the time out to see how this particular story played out.

The key word there is story.

One of the main ideas throughout the film, subtle though it may be, is the concept of religion. The main character is portrayed as someone who is interested in a number of different organised religions as we know it, and he does a little exploration and experimentation of his own when he can. While this may have confused some, what it did do was to add up to a fairly well-rounded and complete character, at least from that particular aspect.

Near the end of the film, however, it was explained that perhaps everything is not quite what we may think it to be. The method of exposition is key, too, for in this scene, the explanation was done in one, long, single take. This is not a film post, per se, but generally speaking, the power of fiction lies in the filmmaker being able to manipulat a bunch of different shots, takes and angles into a fairly coherently-edited narrative sequence.

In essence, the longer a particular shot is, the more ‘real’ it is, because it is not quite so chopped in comparison to the other scenes. This reduces the power of the filmmaker somewhat, but if his intention is portray reality as much as possible, that the long-duration shot is a tool available at his disposal.

That was the tool utilised in this scene, and that was the reveal of the film, so to speak. However, this particular reveal negated the story as it has been told thus far up until now. What was told was pretty fantastical, but it was told, and it was what the audience, including me, lapped up. We allow ourselves to build that bond between us and the character, and believe in what was presented before us.

It is, in many respects, about as close a metaphor to life as I can remember witnessing in a film.

In essence, our sense of identities came about from what we are exposed to. This could be in the form of people actively trying to inculcate within us certain things, like teachers teaching us about mathematical equations, and our parents talking to us about religion. As time goes by, and we attain a certain degree of perceived expertise in whatever fields we may have an interest in, the inculcated becomes the inculcator, as we spread our own ideas and ideologies to others as well.

That is not necessarily to say that we basically regurgitate what others tell us. Far from it, for I do believe in the power of free will. I think we have the ability to take our time to think things through and consider them from different angles; whether we actually use this ability is probably a different story, but the point remains that these things we are told, these stories, they form the very foundation for the meanings we make in life.

Again, these stories do not necessarily have to be fake. The term story itself is often associated by many to be unreal, but there are true stories. Nevertheless, these true stories are always mediated to us by others. For the most part, we are not there ourselves, to witness the sequence of events unfold before our very eyes, but the accounts of others are accepted as gospels of truth because what happens there is the story told fits in fairly well with what we know, with our own stories. They can help to either enhance or change what we know, but it doesn’t necessarily change the fact that these stories are absolutely paramount in forming us into who we are.

In short, we are the stories we tell and are told. We have a choice in believing which of the stories we are told (free will, remember?), and that choice usually reflects the stories we have already been told and have a stake with, stories with which bonds have been created.

At the end of the film, the main character asked which of the two versions of the main story did the secondary character, a journalist (a storyteller of in his own right), believe in. One, a fantastical journey with a Bengal Tiger that can possibly exist only the imagination of the few. The other, an equally sensational but a blander retelling of the sequence of events.

The man replied that it was with the Bengal Tiger. The main character smiled, and said, “And so it goes with God.”

Life is that Bengal Tiger.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shoot the Middleman

Not so recently, Arsenal Football Club were castigated for a number of somewhat unsavoury incidents. There was the issue of fans having to pay through their nose to attend matches; first hand accounts (and further research) shows that a Champions League match with the still-current European champions are actually cheaper than Arsenal’s matches in Europe this season. Banners protesting this particular issue were pulled down by none other than the police themselves, raising questions of how legal their actual actions were.

Putting all that aside, however, one of the more damaging things have been the contractual wranglings between the football club and one of its leading players, Theo Walcott. Arsene Wenger, a manager famed for his tendency to stick to a more level playing field when it comes to the players’ financial rewards.

All is fair and well, and that is perfectly within his rights; I think Walcott eventually compromised on his original demands, but the point is he signed the contract offered and is an Arsenal player for the forseeable future.

However, Wenger were roundly castigated for what he said at the time. Truth be told, he said a lot of things at the time, but the one thing that was highlighted and played to the death in the media was his so-called socialist model. Reading the headlines and writeups by writers all over the world, Wenger is criticised for his willingness to stick to a socialist model, at a time when many believed that certain players almost certainly deserve something that supposedly reflect their higher sense of importance to the team.

It brought me back to the early part of 2000s, when Manchester United themselves were involved in a contractual dispute with Roy Keane, their then-captain. Once again, Roy Keane felt that he wasn’t offered something that truly reflected his worth, but what he did ask for wasn’t something particularly astronomical. He later made the comment that while he did want to play for more money, it wasn’t necessarily purely motivated by that. “I’ve never seen a coffin with pockets,” was something that stayed with me until today.

I bring that up because the portrayal of his demands then were unsavoury. He was portrayed as a mercenary by some, but of course, that wasn’t quite the truth. The representation, though, can quickly become the reality, and the same thing, I fear, is happening today.

People believe a little too easily the things they hear. A part of this has to do with the strengthening of their respective narratives, that what they happen to hear is something that further entrenches their own beliefs. In this case, Arsenal has often been portrayed as a club that is more concerned with its bottom line than on the pitch achievements.

Therefore, comments by the club’s manager that has the word ‘socialist’ in it is seized upon in great delight, and is used by many a newspaper as the actual headline itself.

Except that it wasn’t true. What Wenger did actually say was that the financial model of Arsenal is a more socialist one. The inclusion of the word ‘more’ is small, but important. It means that while they do lean towards a socialist model, a model that ensures more parity, it does not necessarily mean that they are actually socialist. Nobody is being paid the same amount as everyone else. They are still being paid what the club think they are worth, but the gap between the highest and lowest earners at the club is measurably smaller in relation to their direct competitors.

There are pros and cons to this approach, but what I want us to focus on how the (mis)representation of one thing can quickly spread and become the gospel truth to some. This is something that should not happen, at least not to us. The effort to gain first-hand information and to make up our own minds using the free will we have is a right that no one can take away from us. It is a right that we should damn well remember we have, and it is a right that should be exercised as much as possible.

Recently I watched the Tottenham Hotspur – Manchester United match, when Clint Dempsey scored a last-minute equaliser to deny us the victory. I remember match commentator saying that Manchester United won here to secure the league title back in 1999, the year when we won the treble. Not much wrong with that…

…except that we didn’t. We did beat Spurs in the last match of our league schedule to win the league, with a particularly delicious chip by Andy Cole winning us the league (ironically beating Arsenal to the punch).

But we didn’t do it at White Hart Lane. We beat them in front of a full house at Old Trafford to actually win the Premiership for the first time on home soil.

You have the power and the ability to know more than you do. Use it, question everything (including this), and don’t give others the power to make up your mind for you.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Pizza Cake

I met up with an old friend recently, someone who I had not met for quite a while. It can’t have been that long, but I actually got somewhat lost on the way to her house. To more specific, some of the roads were changed and/or blocked, but all the same, I had not figured them to change drastically enough until I couldn’t find my way around my own supposed backyard.

I arrived in good spirits all the same, if not quite in good time, and proceeded to have a pleasant conversation with both my friend and her mom. I’ve known them for quite a number of years, and it is always a pleasure to meet up with people from your past, especially those you really like.

In anticipation of my visit, they had taken the trouble to order some pizzas, so as to make it a more complete Malaysian experience (of course, we’re not the only country to do this, but no such experiences are ever complete without food of some sort). The only problem is, though, that the pizza took forever to arrive. They actually placed the order prior to my arrival, but even taking into account of my unplanned detour(s), they should have arrived a lot earlier.

Somewhat unhappy, my friend called to enquire about the status of the pizza, and whether they would be arriving any time soon. Here, dear readers, is where the issue began.

My friend is a Malaysian who, unless I am very much mistaken, have lived in Malaysia pretty much all of her life. She speaks English very well, with her pronunciation and cadences sounding all very ‘international’. She doesn’t, however, speak very good Malay. The person who took the call for the pizza company probably speaks Malay fairly well, but given the problems and issues about to arise, I’m guess her English is probably not quite up to scratch.

And so you can see where I’m heading here. Obviously, there is some problem with the pizza delivery service itself, whatever it actually may be, but in trying to solve a problem, most parties would usually come together and try to see what could be done to minimise whatever fallout there may be. But what if the common ground between the two sides is so small that direct and honest communication is difficult to carry out?

My friend’s mother then took over the phone. Her Malay is, admittedly, not much of an improvement on her daughter’s, and so the fireworks crackled. I looked at all this with much amusement, and wondered why it has all come to this.

It must be noted that I am not writing this as an attempt to point fingers at any given party. Speaking purely of the linguistic divide, English is currently the main international language utilised by pretty much everyone. There are many reasons for this, and the fact that the future may not quite be the same for English does not negate that fact in the contemporary world. Therefore, its study and usage is not something to be discouraged.

At the same time, Bahasa Melayu (and its variants) is the language used by the majority of the people in this region. As bastardised some of its origins may be (not unlike many other languages), learning and using the language used by a very conservative estimate of over 200 million people, especially when you have been born and bred fairly central to its region of origin, is somewhat useful, I would think.

Obviously, there’s more to this actual pizza situation than we know. The true story may never truly come out (did the delivery boy’s tyre blow out? Was he actually kept waiting by the customer prior to us? And why would the girl who answered the phone pretend to be the manager of the branch?), but all the same, as I see the two sides clash, I can’t help but wonder how we, as an entire nation, can move forward as much when there still remains linguistic chasms to be negotiated over something as simple as ordering a pizza.

There’s more to this issue than meets the eye, and a more complete discussion of the entire issue would have to wait for another day. All the same, it is not a particularly new topic, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not current. I do believe, however, that unless we make a more concerted attempt to address these gaps between us, moving forward and progressing as a nation is not going to a pizza cake (piece of cake). #thekol

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Social Experiment Part 2

Previously, I detailed my efforts of getting to know better this fairly new method of communication called Twitter. Of course, with the fairly nascent rise of its usage throughout the world by pretty much everyone, it very quickly loses its ‘new’ feeling. On a more personal level, I feel as if the transition with which people have made not only to post on Twitter, but also to reading it, is a lot faster compared to other forms of communication through social media.

Comparing it to blogs and Facebook, for example, within the context of celebrities I find that they are more likely to use Twitter than they are to use an actual blog beyond an official presence on the web. By this, I mean celebrities who actually make the effort to express their ideas and opinions about certain things, rather than just promote their upcoming events and activities.

I guess it could, to a certain extent, be related to the ease with which it could be used. A few clicks here and there and whatever you wish to express will be in Twittersphere forever, for all intents and purposes. It can also be done within a very public sphere, meaning that you don’t actually need to log into Facebook to necessarily read whatever that has been written. Quick and easy, true.

But what I find most interesting is the method of consumption by the readers. One must always bear in mind that to a very large extent, content creators are only going to be as good as their readers are. It’s all about finding the right level, and on Twitter, that level is a very non-linear one.

Consider how the most recent Tweets are read. You wake up in the morning, you open up your Twitter application on whatever device you may be using, and you read about how someone has been ranting/raving/Tweeting for the past few hours or so. These rants can be long, but the Tweets are short, with a maximum of 140 characters. Basically, you could very well end up with a situation where you are actually reading things backwards, rather than just connecting the dots.

This is the part where I got to thinking a lot more about the whole technological or human determinism issue. Is this an effect that came about as a result of our usage of social media such as Twitter? Yes, blogs and Facebook are also positioned within a very non-linear (or, perhaps to be more precise, a reverse linear) structure, but they at the very least provides a bigger space within which the artist could paint.

Here, with a very constrictive limit being placed on the mode of expression, you could have a situation where people are writing shorter sentences, spreading those sentences across a number of different Tweets, or, intriguingly, leave behind little breadcrumbs with little context for you to make sense of. “Why is this so hard?”, then, becomes a challenge for you to decipher: are my students talking about a recent breakup with a loved one, or could it be that my short film journal assignment is a little too challenging for them?

Therein lies one of the biggest revelations to me in the course of my Twitter experience. The above forces the reader, then, to actually make a big effort in trying to make sense of what was written. This interactive relationship is not particularly exclusive to Twitter, of course, but because of its very limitation, becomes a defining characteristic. You can be cryptic on Facebook, but the choice for you to do so on Twitter is slightly more out of your hands. We’ll put aside the fairly in-depth discussion that we can get into about collapsing the time-space divide between fans and subjects of fandom, but of course, that certainly helps as well.

Like any other forms of media, it has also been used as a form of branding and marketing. In that light, I have decided to change my handle to @FikriJermadi. I previously used @thekingoflame handle as a form of spreading my lame jokes out there (no post-modern reverse-linear reading skills necessary, for lameness is eternal), but also to observe. Due to a number of different reasons, I now feel ready to try and use this interesting tool without the need to hide within a moniker. There's more of this to come, of that I am very sure about, but for now, it is still intriguing me, and I suspect I will spend some time chronicling some of this for you all.

I still won’t use it to arrange my lunch dates, though. Now that is something I really don’t understand…

*This post is a continuation of The Twitter Experiment.