How are you?

I hate tough questions.

Like the other day, someone asked me:

How are you?

How do you answer a question like that?

In the past, I have reduced the state of my being to “Fine”, Busy”, “Ok” and definitely too many “Not so good”.

But I am not going to lie anymore.

How can I reduce the complexities, richness and the wonderful chaos of my so-called life to a few words?

Like right now, I am feeling disappointed, angry, grateful, tired, alive. At the same time. Plus, a couple of emotions I can’t put my finger to.

Ok, maybe I’m screwed up.

I especially hate this question when people ask in their “auto-roaming” mode. Like you know, when you walking about in the office, and you see a familiar face, and automatically, those 3 detestable words come out.

Many people don’t even stop when they ask this. Some might slow down but they don’t give you enough time to process that question and say ” I’m disappointed, angry, grateful, tired, feel alive and I feel a whole lot of emotions I don’t even know myself”.

I have a feeling many people who ask this question aren’t really interested in the answers. And those who give simple answers aren’t really listening to the question.

How are you is a question that has lost its meaning. It is a question that demands brevity, not truth. It is a question of custom, not concern. It is a question that asks too much and gives too little.

But there is hope.

My Mahjong Maniac Mother called me on Saturday and the first thing she asked me was:

Have you eaten?

It is an ancient Chinese question that has stood the test of time.

(Before another faithful reader accused me of bigotry, I must say that in exalting my own culture, I have not done this at others’ expense. I am really proud of my heritage except those dark, unfashionable days of the Chinese pigtail)

Have you eaten is a superior alternative to How are you. It is a question that goes straight to the engine of human life – the stomach. Yet, it is non-invasive, unlike the other question, which on a bad day, can reduce one to tears. It is a question suited to rapid movement since the answers are always short. It is a question that is almost, in every instance, followed by a truthful answer.

Let’s banish How are you to the higher realms of intellectual discourse. Let it be uttered over lingering sips of ulong tea, over long dinners in the presence of wine and butlers, in private libraries and even in the sanctuary of the bedroom.

But only after and never before fornication.

Have no doubts. How are you is a intimate and intense question. Give it respect, give it time and give it intellectual and spiritual commitment.

If you happen to fall short, there’s always Have you eaten?

I hope this finds you well-fed and satisfied.

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An Invitation

Nothing today…

But a simple invitation for you to tell me what you want me to write.

Things that you care about.

Things that keep you awake at night.

Anything.

I don’t have answers. Instead I offer you time, empathy and friendship.

Let’s start with your words on the comments page.

Let’s end with hope on every page.

4 Draycott Park

Once upon a time, Tuesdays were perfect.

But not before enduring a nauseating cocktail of Keynesian economics, tortuous trigonometry and the amorous leanings of the wif of bath.

A Levels was hell.

And if you don’t believe in Hell, you haven’t met Anal Agnes, who spoke Chaucer and broke spirits.

Tough. Uncompromising. Unyielding.

And we’re only talking about her substantial posterior.

But come face to face with the Breaker of Balls, the Harbinger of Horror and the Tyrant of Terror, let’s just say…

It’s not a pretty sight.

But not even this Beast of Boredom, this Leecher of Life can stop Tuesdays from being perfect.

(My body may be hers, but never my Spirit)

No matter how bad the day was, a most enchanting evening would begin at 7pm.

I would make my way to 4 Draycott Park, usually with classmate Curator Cheong, who like me, scorned academia but loved cinema.

Those were times unlike today. No Internet, no DVDs, no glut of film festivals and almost no foreign films from Cathay or Shaw.

(For some reason, I have never considered Hong Kong films foreign)

And we were 2 teenage cineasts, with little money to spare.

Ok, maybe things haven’t changed that much.

The French were kind enough to offer us a little projection room for 2 hours of pure cinematic magic.

It didn’t matter that the room was a little dingy. Or if you were late, you would be seated at the back and missing the subtitles. Or if the print was old and dirty.

Or the motley crew of oddballs that graced the screenings.

What mattered was on the screen.

Over the course of 2 years, I was mesmerized by tales of sordid affairs, crimes of passion, duels and fights, criminals on the run and detectives on a trail.

In these foreign lands, peopled by strange tongues, it was ok to be different, ok to be flawed, ok to be estranged.

Redemption was always within reach, provided you were willing to pay the price.

These were films, unlike any I have ever seen. The cinema was ambiguous, subtle and sublime.

And it helped me make sense of a world of Anal Agnes, stuffy peers and a punishing environment.

When the going got tough, there was always Tuesdays.

——————————

Once upon a time, Tuesdays were perfect.

In the morning, I read Economics, Math and Literature.

In the evenings, I had an education.

26.2

My friends are crazy.

This Sunday, Ravishing Rox is gearing herself to run a half-marathon for women in San Francisco.

Last month, Athletic Al tried persuading me to participate in the Sheares Bridge Run & Army Half Marathon.

They are all nuts.

Do you know the origin of the marathon?

“The name “marathon” comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek soldier who, according to legend, ran from the town of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon.”

And do you know what happened to this Mr P. Dippy – Mr. Just-Do-It-and-No-Horsing-Around Greek Hero?

He ran the 26 miles, “announced the Greek victory with the words ‘Nike’ , or ‘Victory’ and died on the spot.”

Now you understand why I am not dying to run.

Yesterday, Tantalizing Tams sent me a link to the upcoming French Film Festival Movie Marathon.

Has the whole world gone mad?

Why would anyone subject themselves to the torture of watching a series of disparate films in one sitting?

For a good deal? For the novelty? For bragging rights? (I survived Wicker Park and Mona Lisa Smile in 1 night)

I never had a problem with the film franchise marathons (Spiderman, X-Men, Lord of the Rings). Let’s face it: You don’t need that much intellectual commitment to get by those films.

But when an institution that promotes language, culture and the arts starts to pander to the kinky tastes of a whimsical audience, I think there’s something really wrong.

I see French films the way I see French cuisine. It has to be studied, critiqued and consumed slowly.

“The French… have surrounded food with so much commentary, learning and connoisseurship as to clothe it in the vestments of civilization itself… Cooking is viewed as a major art form: innovations are celebrated and talked about as though they were phrases in the development of a style of painting or poetry… A meal at a truly great restaurant is a sort of theatre you can eat.” Richard Bernstein

I would never imagine going to a French buffet. In the same way, the idea of a French Film Marathon revolts me.

Are we going to be helpless corroborators as this Monster of a Marathon disparages the French Film?

Non.

Boycott the Film Marathon!

Boycott the Cultural Assassins!

For Renoir! For Truffaut! For Goddard!

Liberte!

Egalite!

Fraternite!

A nation of cheats

3 checks in 2 days. Twice on the same bus. Bus inspectors are sure getting busy, making sure commuters everywhere pay their dues.

I am actually quite surprised. With an overwhelming majority of passengers using the ezLink card, I would think it’s impossible to cheat the bus companies. Unless someone walk past the scanners without flashing or tap the scanner before their actual stop. This won’t be easy unless people are prepared to lose face.

(For my international readers, lose face does not refer to a debilitating form of facial wastage but rather a soul-wrenching social malaise since the very first Chinese first stepped on this yellow earth. For the average Westerner, you will not be able to adequately understand this concept unless you’re still fighting duels and defending the honor of fair maidens.)

Yet, the bus companies are making frequent checks.

Are we becoming a nation of cheats?

Last year, Flyingchair.net hosted the AsiaBlog Awards. The public was invited to submit their favorite blog. There was a “prolific” amount of cheating. A Singaporean site, Imprezzions, had 6 votes from the same IP address. 3 of these votes feature email addresses that used a variation of the name ‘Phua Hui Ting’.

They must have quite a big family over at 165.21.154.11 .

And not-so-creative parents when it comes to names.

Flyingchair.net found that the majority of cheating came from Singapore and Malaysia.

Elsewhere on the Net, I found 158 students from 28 schools caught cheating in a national office administration exam using software programs.

And thanks to technology, unfaithful Singapore spouses are now more easily exposed. Apparently, 9 out of 10 cases of extra-martial behavior are discovered through “cellular telephone habits”.

Are we cheating more because of technology or has technology made it easier to discover cheating?

Even if we have become a nation of cheats, there is no need to worry. A casual check on the web found a list of nations mentioned in the same breath as “a nation of cheats”.

USA, Great Britain, Zimbabwe, Malaysia, Sweden, India.

We are in good company.

(Note: After I posted this, there was another check on the bus on my way back. Next time, I’ll write about winning lotteries and women falling from the sky)

I cheated!

I cheated an old lady yesterday.

Dinner at Jackson Kopitiam was a galore of chili, crab and carbohydrates. By the time I was done, I was desperate to wash my hands. But it was going to be tricky.

The clever people at this coffeeshop has the place set up so that you need to pay 10 cents to use the washing facilities. I know it isn’t much but how do you get to money when both your hands are dirty? I mean the whole point of getting that delicious chili off your hands is to get to the money. The money will get you more chili, some tasty beverage to wash down all that chili, some quality companionship to share the chili with and get rid of all kinds of messy chili in your life.

But how do you get rid of the chili when you can’t get to the money to get rid of the chili?

Believe me, if Alanis had to go through this shit, you would hear about it in Ironic.

But she’s a bloody vegetarian.

Back to my hands.

The toilet was well guarded. But the old lady had to leave her seat to get to something. I had to be fast. I had to be quiet. But I was ready. 2 and a half years in the Armed Forces had trained me well in the Pre-Emptive Strike.

Swift and Deadly.

I got in safe. Washed my hands quickly. Now, I wanted to give 10 cents to the old lady. And to my horror, I realized I had no change and only a $50 note in my pocket.

So I sneaked out – without paying.

That was yesterday.

Today, I feel guilty as hell.

And that was before church.

I cheated an old lady making a simple and decent living.

The next time you go to Jackson Kopitiam, would you be kind enough to drop an extra 10 cents when you use the toilet?

That is if you trust a shameless deceiver of old ladies to pay you back.

Work=Play?

“His language is song, his work is play”
– On Orpheus

Someone told me this morning there’s life outside this blog.

I wish she have told me earlier.

Someone NICE left me a comment and asked me whether I consider work a play or play a work.

By the way, in a perfect world, NICE people read my blog and leave comments. NICE people tell you what they think: ‘Hey, that sucks’ , ‘I don’t agree with you’ or ‘Great job’. NICE people tell other NICE people about this blog. At least 10 others. NICE people visit your blog everyday. Twice.

But we’re talking about a perfect world.

Reality bites.

So, let’s get back to the question.

Ideally, work=play and play=work. It’s neat concept. After all, there are overlapping areas and we shouldn’t have to artificially separate work and play. For example, a rock star on tour who really enjoy music and groupies will have problems with that.

That and STDs.

Practically, I think it works better if we separate them. First of all, it means our bosses can’t abuse this: “Why don’t you work longer since you’re having so much fun?”

Yeah, right.

We like to think we are sophisticated creatures and can handle it all. Our brains are indeed powerful. It’s just that much of that works in our subconscious. Our conscious minds are more limited and need clear signals. For example, for people having problems sleeping, it is encouraged that they reserve the bed for sleeping and not work, reading and television.

(Sex is allowed, of course, and encouraged.)

This is useful because the brain will associate the bed with rest and peace, instead of the mixed signals that it had before.

Clear distinctions work.

While it is important to have distinctions in thinking conceptually about work and play, it’s not necessary when it comes to ATTITUDE.

In other words, we should be playful when it comes to work and work hard when it comes to play.

I always like actors who play around. No, not with the help. But with the script, with directions, with meanings, with ideas. A script can be perfect and the direction impeccable, but as Al Pacino suggests, sometimes spontaneity is more important. And that comes with hard work and a playful attitude.

The business and engineering world are also working hard at playing.

As much as I want to elaborate, I’m taking my play time seriously and if you like, I will share more next time. For now, it’s time to play.

Blogging is hard work.