Thursday, February 27, 2014

Open door

A bit too in love with this song:

Monday, February 24, 2014


World Press Photo of the Year 2013 by John Stanmeyer

I saw this photograph this morning and it has remained imprinted in my mind ever since.
Taken by John Stanmeyer, the stunning photograph above, titled Signal, is the winner of the World Press Photo award -  one of the most prestigious awards that a photographer can hope to claim.

Striking in its simplistic composition and color scheme, Signal unfolds a remarkable story. "So.. they're instragamming the moon?" was the suggestion put forth by one of my friends when I showed her this photo. A good guess, but no -  - this year's World Press Photo Award winner is not an example of the 21st century Instagram phenomenon, but rather a capture of a rawer and more intimate moment.

As is written in this photo's caption, the men in the photo are African migrants standing on the shore of Djibouti city, trying to "capture an inexpensive signal" from Somalia so that they can call home.

Family, hardship, journey, determination - at once, a slew of words emerges to accompany the photo and make its setting all the more befitting.

As Chinese poet 李白 wrote in his renowned poem 靜夜思, “舉頭望明月,低頭思故鄉:”  "Raise your head to look at the moon, lower it and think of home." In Chinese literature, the moon has always born a symbolic significance:it has always meant home and nostalgia - you're looking at the moon here, and the rest of your family is miles away looking at the same moon. Therefore, the gleam from the migrants' mobile phones - mirroring the light of the moon - almost seems to carry the connotation of the 'modern moon' - it is the "tenebrous link" to home.

Also stated in the photo's caption is a side-note on Djibouti city on how it is "a common stop-off point for migrants in transit from such countries as Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, seeking a better life in Europe and the Middle East." Seeking a better life. These men are magnified, their voyage glorified, their purpose ennobled: something in the shadowed stance of these migrants becomes heroic, almost holy. It is as if they are raising their cell phones in prayer. It is an image that is as tender as it is brave.

Signal captures a perfect and moving enroute-moment. It captures the step between the departure and destination during which a hopeful traveller wants nothing more than to reach home, to call upon the comforts of family and the familiar before he once again returns to the voyage of "seeking a better life."

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

It's a trite platitude, perhaps, yet one that aptly captures the essence of Signal nonetheless.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Avocado in a mug

I spent several hours this weekend running away from my responsibilities and trying to
'procrastinate productively' (e.g. changing my FB settings so that my language settings are
in French...  counts as practicing French?).

Anyhow, it's been months maybe since I've written a 'normal' blog post - as in just a regular
entry sans book/film review, something a bit more angled towards the personal-life spectrum.

I've recently gotten into mug cakes. I love the simplicity and efficacy of mixing a bunch of
ingredients in a mug, popping it in the microwave and devouring the end product -- all within 15 minutes. Now my recommended recipes on Yummly (food has never appealed to me more) all
seem to be generally around the you-only-need-5-ingredients range, which 1) is delightful
2) hopefully doesn't make me seem like a lazy person...

...anyhow, I decided to take mug cake making up a notch this past week by trying one of Kirbie's Cravings' recipes: avocado cake in a mug. I love squishy foods (is there a more eloquent way
of putting this?) - yams, avocados, bananas, pumpkins, squash, ETC. So I'm literally going to
try and make a yam cake in a mug some time in the future.

Anyhow, unfortunately, my kitchen experience didn't really turn out to be one of those
"I've adapted a recipe and it worked brilliantly despite my alterations"
cases. So I haven't got a picture of a 'proper' mug cake because the end product ... went wrong in some way (not entirely though). I had great fun eating it, but at the same time I'm not sure if what I ended up with was really the 'legit thing.'

I might try using self-rising flour next time.

OK, I now need to get back to 'productivity'...

P.S. I am (or was) reading Zadie Smith's NW, but I've paused it to reread the Border Trilogy. Yay!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Things can change in a day

The God of Small ThingsThe God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"You must read this," I was told time and time again by two of my good friends (whose opinions I value). So I did, and I am grateful.

Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things is powerfully compelling, at once revolving around the hard boundaries of the caste system but also throbbing with a childhood tenderness and delicacy.

It opens in the long, humid and rainy days of May in Ayemenem where we are at once thrown into a chapter (beautifully alliterated: Paradise Pickles and Preservers) brimming with description, with puddles and dampness and soft moss and a "wild, overgrown garden full of the whisper and scurry of small lives."
And such a notion of smallness - of small things changing a lifetime and of small gestures making small imprints on something as vast as love - recurs throughout the novel. 

On the back of my copy, John Updike is quoted for having said that "to discuss the plot [of this novel] would be to violate it." And I agree - but just to give you some context...

Rahel and Esthappen are two twins (Rahel - girl, esthappen - boy) who - at the curiosity-driven, innocuous years of childhood - find themselves tied down by an immense history of caste systems and political/social boundaries that weave themselves into their lives. These restraints impact not only them but also their mother, Ammu, and the 'Untouchable' Velutha, the carpenter who works at Paradise Pickles and Preserves.

The twins are fond of Velutha, who is in turn fond of them, and soon Ammu herself develops feelings for Velutha - dangerous feelings forbiden by the Love Laws, "the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much."

These laws lie at the heart of this novel and because of them the characters find themselves:
"... prisoners of war," Chacko said. "Our dreams have been doctored. We belong nowhere. We sail unanchored on troubled seas. We may never be allowed ashore. Our sorrows will never be sad enough. Our joys never happy enough. Our dreams never big enough. Our lives never important enough. To matter."

Even after finishing this novel I'm not sure if I can put a name to 'The God' of Small Things; I don't even think that is a question the novel asks. Rather what it stressed are the small things and the effects they have on history as a whole, on how Rahel and Estha's lives pan out, on how "things can change in a day" because of small things. Most importantly, about how "history negotiates its terms and collects its dues from those who breaks its laws."

What is most heartbreakin most about Roy's characterization of the twins is how they think of each other as "me," and how "emptiness in one twin was only a version of the quietness in the other"... how Estha grew "accustomed to the uneasy octopus that lived inside him and squirted its inky tranquilizer on his past. "

If you're planning to read the novel, the family tree below shall prove immensely helpful, too bad I only found out about it 5 minutes ago:

Lengthy and even arguably verbose, The God of Small Things does not unfold chronologically and thus its plot is not so easily grasped; however, Roy reiterates key sentences throughout the novel:
The God of loss.
The God of Small Things.

Love. Madness. Hope. Infinite joy.

- which, like color-coded lighthouses on a broad sea, point readers in the right direction. Technically, a large chunk of the whole novel is exposed in the first chapter but at that point one lacks too many of the precious details (Roy does details so well) to register much.

Roy's prose is poetic; she doesn't merely write - she paints, embellishes and illustrates using the most ordinary or exquisite of words. Such elegance, made visual by Roy's crafting, remains constant throughout the novel regardless of what she is describing, be it a beaten man or a yellow church.

Thus thought-provoking as the themes expressed in this novel are, it is ultimately the language - the intrinsic detail, the exquisite metaphors - that carry the plot and tie together all its magic and mystery.
Human beings were creatures of habit, and it was amazing the kind of things they could get used to.

It seemed so absurd. So futile. Like polishing firewood

It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that it purloined..

And we, my dears, everything we are and ever will be are just a twinkle in her eye," Chacko said grandly, lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling.

Then Small God (cozy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity. Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became resilient and truly indifferent. Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered. And the less it mattered, the less it mattered. It was never important enough. Because Worse Things had happened. In the country that she came from, poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace, Worse Things kept happening.

So Small God laughed a hollow laugh, and skipped away cheerfully. Like a rich boy in shorts. He whistled, kicked stones. The source of his brittle elation was the relative smallness of his misfortune. He climbed into people’s eyes and became an exasperating expression.”

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bradley Cooper speaking French

It is damp Saturday afternoon and boredom takes on the 12pt-sized, thousand-character form of my Chinese written assignment. Under such circumstances I'd much rather indulge in my new hobby - watching the humble, charismatic Bradley Cooper do interviews in French.
I seriously smiled/giggled throughout this:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Last Vow

In the last episode of Sherlock, we finally come eye-to-eye with this season's villain:
the glassy-eyed (no pun intended), enigmatic and - frankly - repulsive Charles Augustus Magnussen.

We are introduced to not only him at the beginning of the episode but also his super glasses (take that, Google glass): the privacy-breaching instrument that supplies him with all the information - notably the 'pressure points' of individuals - he needs in order to blackmail anyone under the sun... which makes him inconveniently immune to a number of threats.

Something else we are introduced to at the beginning of the episode - something more bizarre, in fact - is THIS: 
To be honest, I actually had a *thank goodness for the integrity of the show and the inherent nature of Sherlock's character* moment when he revealed that he dated Janine only so that he could "break into her boss’ office," although his biting comment about love being a "human error" was certainly... ouch..

The more significant part about the break-in, of course, is this:
At first, I thought mysteriously-disguised-female was almost certainly Lady Smallwood OR EVEN Irene Adler BUT... if one flashbacks to Sherlock's preliminary examination of Mary, 'Liar' surfaced at least 4 times (I did actually notice, okay) - I got over the initial shock pretty quickly and it seemed almost expected that the creators of Sherlock would throw such a twist at us.


Nonetheless, I, like John, felt this way:
I was crushed that Mary couldn't just be the regular civilian wife that John wanted - something 'en dehors de' Sherlock's nutty life; however, on the contrary, precisely what John needs is not that sort of partner. As Sherlock aptly verbalizes what we've subconsciously concluded since Season 2 ended,
John, you are addicted to a certain lifestyle, you're abnormally attracted to dangerous situations and people so is it truly such a surprise that the woman you've fallen in love with conforms to that pattern.
So, Season 3 tells us as much about Watson as it does about Sherlock - the two are truly a 'couple.'
Sherlock pulled himself back to consciousness for John's sake, just as John goes running to look for trouble in a shady-alley because he can't stand missing out on the lifestyle he has with Sherlock.

(tangent: I love the still below from episode 2; very desktop-wallpaper-able)

Both certainly have their 'pressure points' - Sherlock has so many kept buried at the bottom of his mind palace - and I'm glad this episode did more to tap into them (character exploration!). Speaking of mind palace, I can't believe Magnussen's vaults = his brain, although that conveniently gives Sherlock a 'valid reason' to kill him... once again, all for John.

But, as we know from the previous episodes, John is more than merely the 'damsel in distress'-  he himself is also a lifesaver. Speaking of John, that scene in which he was being flicked by Magnussen was HORRID; it was the worse, worse, worse scene in the entire episode but just goes to show how horrible and psycho Magnussen is. Though he is perhaps not as mental as Moriarty, who, I cannot believe is somehow back (!?!?) but at least that gives the British government an excuse to recruit Sherlock (another *thank goodness* moment).

So, in conclusion -

Season 3 of Sherlock has been unquestionably entertaining and insightful. The three episodes have filled in the gaps left by the fanbase, notably by building on Sherlock and John's chemistry, giving more depth to both their characters and ultimately cementing the certitude of their friendship. Best friends. We delve deeper into the Sherlock-world as a whole, e.g. when meeting Redbeard (naw). Even Ms. Hudson's character has been explored; she is not just the old, batty landlady she oft seems to be but one who in fact harbors a dark, not-so-chaste history. Moreover, all this has been done while still preserving the pith of the show: slipping carefully-crafted crimes into each 80 minute segment; crimes that are each, of course, solved by our clever protagonist.

Episode 2 remains my favourite episode from this season, but nonetheless The Last Vow answers earlier questions thrown to us at the beginning of the episode, (naturally) raises new ones and gives us more to look forward to for Season 4.

Much cleverness, much emotion, and much screenwriting/film-making finesse. No wonder the fanbase is swelling! The show deserves it.

Here are my reviews for The Signs of the 3 and The Empty Hearse.

The Sign of the Three

Well, all I can say is that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss certainly know how to kill two birds with one stone - in The Sign of the Three, the second episode of the much-awaited Season 3 of Sherlock (if anyone still cares about my overdue opinion), they not only successfully pluck at the fanbase's heartstrings but also manage to spin out an intriguing mystery.

Heartstrings, first: much was done to point this episode in direction of #EMOTION, notably in:
1) The best man speech
2) The Irene Adler cameo
3) Reiterations of "you're my best friend"
4) Even little things such as Sherlock ruffling his hair

As I mentioned in my previous Sherlock post, certain decisions - atypical as they may be (but thankfully in moderation)- are inevitably being made during the screenwriting process to satisfy the fans' needs expectations and recognize the existence of the tumblr-populating Sherlockians.

But are such components (e.g. gif above) truly considered atypical anymore? Sherlock BBC is, after all, a 21st century remake of a the classic detective novel. So the drunken scenes

perhaps seem tangential to the Mayfly case/crime but in fact are essential to the pith of the show itself: Sherlock and Watson's friendship, his humanity (yes, to some degree)... plus, such scenes take us deeper into the show and further into character exploration and understanding - not to mention the fact that they're hilarious and contribute greatly to the excellence of the episode.

Moreover, all the delightful flashbacks we are treated to in this episode turn out to not actually be as tangential as we may think (apologies for backtracking on my comments); this is what I mean when I say that Gatiss and Moffat killed two birds with one stone in this episode: all flashbacks/juicy footage of Sherlock-Watson chemistry are IN FACT greatly relevant to the main mystery's unfolding... EVERYTHING ties together - the two seemingly separate cases Sherlock presented in seemingly trivial anecdotes are in fact brother-cases... the WEDDING ITSELF is the crime scene...

Q.E.D. The screenwriters deserve all the awards.

What I love about this episode is also all it does to expose Sherlock's 'soft-side,' notably when his smoothness temporarily goes and sulks in the corner while he struggles to write/deliver the best-man speech. Sherlock, with "an international reputation" (as he drunkendly puts it) is rendered gauche and awkward at John's sunny, yellow-wallpapered wedding (tangent: I loved the set design).

At first, the best man speech does not start of so well -

Sherlock goes on a brief tirade about how marriage is a staple of the "ailing and morally compromised world... etc" "doom of our society" "entire species" etc.

BEFORE he (thankfully) salvages his speech and says (cue fangirl tears):

"The point I'm trying to make is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant, and all-around obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous, unaware of the beautiful, and uncomprehending in the face of the unhappy. So if I didn't understand I was being asked to be best man, it is because I never expected to be anyone's best friend. Certainly not the best friend to the bravest and kindest and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing."

^Certainly not something one would imagine Sherlock saying in Season 1... John has changed him as much as he has changed John. So when Mycroft mockingly asks Sherlock on the phone, "Civilian life suiting you?" he knows that Sherlock has already gotten involved (despite his denial - see gif below).

"involved? I'm not involved!"

His final promise to protect all three Watsons certainly doesn't help his case.
While Sherlock is getting all the more involved, Mrs. Hudson warns John that marriage life will take him away from anyone out of his marriage (e.g. Sherlock). John denies this, of course, and his denial is much more believable than Sherlock's .... as we see in the next episode.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Liebster Award: 2014 Edition

A big thank you to Ajda and Tjaša for nominating me for the Liebster Award! I've heard of it before but certainly never thought it would come to me. Check out their lovely blog here.

Here are the rules:
1. Thank the person who nominated you and link back up to their blog.
2. State 11 facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions given to you by the nominator.
4. Nominate 11 other bloggers for this award who have less than 200 folowers.
5. Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
6. Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them.

So, without further ado -
11 Facts about me:
        1. I grow restless very easily - I always need something to keep me occupied, be it a book or carry-around task. Yes, this idiosyncrasy has gotten on the nerves of a certain few.
          2. I have only painted all my fingernails (all 10 in one go) twice in my life.
          3. I used to cry at this scene every single time but I think I'm now immune.
          4. I can identify every violin note I hear (except the super super high-register ones) but not the piano ones (I think?).
          5. I started, but never finished, George Orwell's 1984.
          6. I've been using expired cocoa powder to make myself a mug of hot chocolate every morning for the past week.
          7. I LOVE eating mushy foods - yams, avocados, pumpkins...
          8. I can't stand Bubble Tea (although I'm Taiwanese).
          9. I have recently embarked on a listen-to-French-Disney-songs phase.
          10. I watched Sherlock S3E02 ... in the car
          11. I've been reprimanded for 'reading too much.'

Ajda and Tjaša's questions:

1. Are you scared of death?
I fear an end to life (coming at this question from a slightly different angle). I can't be afraid of death itself, since is something I don't understand. So perhaps it is 1) the ending of something I understand and love (life) or 2) the inevitability of the unknown (death) that worries me.
2. If you would be able to meet a famous person, who would it be?

3. The food you can't live without?
4. You won a gift certificate for plastic surgery, what would you change?
5. Your dream honeymoon destination?
The Mackenzie Basin in New Zealand.
6. Favourite app on your phone?
Ah... I own a dinosaur-age Nokia so my favourite app is perhaps simply my phone's calculator.
7. Your favourite memory?
8. Your favourite web store?
I literally only know the Chrome web store.
9. Favourite book series/ TV series?
Harry Potter (or LoTR or the Border Trilogy) is my favourite book series. The TV series I have the most appreciation for right now is Sherlock.
10.Your favourite childhood cartoon?
Oh, this is taking me back........ *blanking out*
11. What or who can you not live without?
(one of the things) my violin.

Nominated bloggers:

My questions for the bloggers I've nominated:
  1. Pick your favourite mug cake from this list.
  2. You're making trail mix. Which 5 ingredients do you include?
  3. 3rd word of the 5th line of the current page you're on for whatever book you'r reading:
  4. What's the first word that comes to mind when you hear/see the word FLOUR? Now, write a haiku on it.
  5. If you were to have a love/hate relationship with one book, that book would be...
  6. Favourite classical piece:
  7. What's the first instrument that comes to your mind and what would you describe it as?
  8. Somebody you admire:
  9. Best thing you did today (so far):
  10. Last movie you watched and loved:
  11. Most recent worthwhile purchase: