Sunday, January 30, 2005

Larry David asking Richard Lewis (on the left) to go inside a jewellery store for him. Picture from here

Being a big Seinfeld fan, I was very interested a few years ago to see that Larry David, the co-creator (along with Seinfeld himself), was starting a new show called Curb Your Enthusiasm. However, the show didn't seem to be playing here, so I ended up slowly forgetting about it, until the odd reference appeared on some random show (I remember in particular a spoof Martin Short did on his Primetime Glick, which I didn't fully understand at the time). Last week though, I managed to see CYE for the first time - and I was disappointed! It was inevitable that I would start off trying to compare it to Seinfeld; in terms of observations on the absurd little things that pervade our life, David didn't seem to have lost his touch. However, I just felt that something was lacking, primarily because one of the episodes seemed a bit over-the-top and, well, not funny. But how quickly I changed my opinion when I saw a couple of episodes again yesterday! I think I'm just all too easy to please, for it just took a couple of lines to completely win me over.

It's clear that the show does have it's Seinfeldian side, what with the endless awkward social and interpersonal situations and rules (e.g. the "cutoff time" for phoning someone at night), but it is also quite different. I believe it airs on HBO in the US, so the cast exert the liberty to swear whenever they feel like it ('twas a bit strange to see Julia Louis Dreyfus, better known as Elaine on Seinfeld, doing so - it seemed completely inconsistent with the notion I've formed of her over these years!). Also, there doesn't appear to be as much of a focus on different characters - it seems more to be about David, and it's lucky the character is so quirky (George was based on David, and he always was my favourite character). There doesn't seem to be the layering of interconnected plots, but really, endlessly drawing comparisons is only of limited interest. Suffice to say, it's similar, but it does have a distinct flavour of its own.

Much to my surprise, apparently the show doesn't have a script, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. There are scene outlines, with the general idea of what is going on and where the scene needs to go, but the actors make up most of the lines (and hence, the jokes) on the spot! Of course, improv comedy isn't an entirely new idea (Whose Line Is It Anyway? has been around for ages!), but improv in a sitcom? It's an interesting idea, and I think the show somehow makes it work. The caveat, I would imagine, is that the other actors on the show also need to be able to think quick on their feet, and be able to make up funny lines on the spot. I'm curious to see later episodes in order to find out how other celebrities fare, especially those who aren't comedians (for instance, I believe Alanis Morrissette makes an appearance).

Some of the jokes are very clearly made up on the go, because the laughter it elicits is so clearly genuine; when Richard Lewis inexplicably says "Call me before sundown", and David replies with "Before sundown? Who are you, Gary Cooper?", both start laughing in a manner clearly unstaged. But I really wonder whether there aren't some jokes that are semi-prepared beforehand, especially the small, subtle ones. Then again, almost every episode of Whose Line amazes me!

I suppose the whole point of this post is that CYE is interesting enough for me to have now planned to try to watch it with some regularity. Which, to be honest, isn't very interesting reading, but at least there's a picture at the top.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

I've been reading with some interest the growing talk about the introduction of Twenty20 cricket. The rules are quite interesting, and go something like this (from here):

# Twenty overs per side.
# Bowlers are restricted to 4 overs each.
# Fielding restrictions in the first six overs - 2 fielders outside circle with a minimum of two stationary fielders.
# Fielding restrictions for overs 7-20 - maximum five fielders allowed outside of circle.
# A 'no-ball' is worth 2 runs, and the batsman gets a free hit after a no-ball.
# Each side has just 80 minutes to get through their 20 overs. There is 15 minutes between innings.
# There are run penalties for each over which hasn't been bowled in the allocated time.
# The next batsman has 90 second after the fall of a wicket to get to the crease.

Even purists like Mark Waugh seem to be in favour of it, which I guess makes me a super-purist, for I don't want any of it! Or, at least, it doesn't sound like the sort of thing that should entirely replaced the current 50-over ODI's. The biggest reason the concept is getting such a big push is the fact that cricket appears to be dying in many parts of the world (if we exclude the sub-continent, where it is still religiously followed). The West Indies for years now have been playing with sides that are pale reflections of the unstoppable Windies outfits of the '80s, and it has been noted that cricket as a sport has been losing out to many American sports that are now making their way to the Carribean, such as baseball. It therefore seems a bit unpragmatic to suggest that cricket should stay the way it always has been, in the face of dwindling interest worldwide. Yet, I suppose that because I've been brought up loving the game, I find it a bit saddening to think that it should be forced to adapt the needs of people, rather than people adapting to the game and finding how to love its flaws and foibles.

But, I suppose when ODI's themselves were introduced all those years ago, there would have been purists back then who downplayed the idea, and saw it as breaking the tradition and spirit of the game. There's no denying that ODI's were also introduced to make mass-consumption easier, so it is a bit hypocritical of me to reject the concept of commercialization. I suppose the nature of commercialization is somewhat relative; ODI's for me are the norm*, but purists of yesteryear would probably vehemently disagree! I think therefore that any arguments I give against it could be equally applied to ODI's when they were first introduced...

There was the alternate suggestion of shaving off ten overs and making ODI's into 40 overs, which goes down a bit better. I think anything less than 30-35 overs just "feels" too short, as though all the careful strategy goes out the window. No room for early over collapses followed by careful consolidation, for starters. With twenty overs, there would be very little notion of careful batting - if a team has an explosive opening pair, then in all likelihood the first and last five overs would be spent in hard hitting, which, albeit entertaining, again just "feels" wrong. Hmph, I really don't know how to express it - almost like cricket is being reduced into a small, mass-market snack instead of an acquired taste. Heh, I'm probably elitist too; maybe I just want cricket to be appreciated by a select few, rather than the masses? Who knows.

So I don't really know where this leaves me - someone who admits hypocrisy and elitism but still feels Twenty20 is "wrong" sounds close enough (pretty convincing argument, eh?). Maybe in another twenty years I'll talk about how blasphemous Ten10 cricket is, and how it will destroy the great tradition of Twenty20!! I think that if Twenty20 is introduced alongside ODI's (i.e. it doesn't replace them completely, like ODI's didn't replace tests), then I will be wary but try to be a bit open-minded about it. I have my doubts though!

* I still watch and love test cricket, but it's just so different, so I don't really think either is the "norm" for cricket itself.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

It's mildly amusing to look over the posts of 2004, if only to notice the dramatic increase in the number of posts made as the year went by, and also the endless amount of pseudo-philosophy which often bordered on nihilism. In the last post I mentioned that I didn't feel like thinking about the ideas the story brought up anymore. I also don't feel like thinking about most, if any, ideas brought up this past year in the blog. Put it down to my mind deciding it needs an extended vacation - I simply cannot gather the energy to start asking seemingly deep and profound questions anymore. In addition, I also get the feeling that I will never be able to conjure up any further attempts at poetry, after reading through some of the previous tripe that I've posted. Perhaps my muse is also on leave, or perhaps I've realized that there was no muse to start off with!

It seems like a very long time ago since I was caught up in the rigmarole of exams and uni work. Around that time, I remember having panic attacks and being unable to sleep without thinking about how I feared failing in a couple of subjects. Now that the dust has settled, I can state that I did in fact pass everything, and, as expected, am left shaking my head at how overdramatic I can be. I wrote something a few days after learning of this "miracle", which I may as well post:

"I promised some unknown figment of my imagination that I would make a post regarding my feared failure in a subject at uni, and since the results are back, here goes.

It turns out that I was being paranoid about failing a couple of subjects. In fact, I did get my lowest mark in uni in one of the subjects, which was to be expected considering how badly I did. However, I managed to somehow pass it, which validates the suspicion that the hordes of students who seemed to appear out of nowhere for the exam did not in fact do all that well (always attend lectures, kids!). The other one, which I made a long and meandering post about, turned out to be a bit of a joke. I ended up getting close to full marks in the internal assessment I was thinking I would get 25% in, which just makes me wonder; was it just paranoia, or was it due to lax marking? Considering how rushed the marking was, I think it was a bit of the latter too. The marker was renowned for strictness earlier in the semester, but I suppose he had a change of heart at the end when he realized that there just wasn't any time to be strict. As a result, I didn't end up failing, but in fact I got one of the better marks this semester. If anyone saw my final mark, and saw that I was actually concerned about failing the subject, I really don't know what they would think. Heck, I myself don't know what to think - what was going on in my head at the time!? What a truly disconcerting experience - I have never experienced such raw, undistilled paranoia about anything like my concern over failing this subject. But in the end, things just went in my favour through some stroke of pure luck that's as good an indication as any that God's in heaven and he's on my side (only joking, gentle reader).

I want to be able to learn from this, and be a little more level-headed when it comes to judging my own performance. It's one think to under-estimate one's performance - that will always be the case with me, and I can deal with that. But under-estimating to this extent, nope, it's just too much. I don't fancy the idea of getting yet more panic-attacks and spending my days and nights in perpetual worry about something as ludicrous as this. Thankfully this trip has helped me get a bit more perspective on things, and made me at least consider changing my outlook on life. I really ought to try and make sure this never happens again.

Ya know, sitting here and typing this up, such things seem like trivialities. But that's always the way it is, I suppose - from the outside, one can easily call most things in life trivial. It's equally easy to get totally caught up in something and forget about the "big picture". Yeah, 'tis verily a cliche, but perhaps life is a cliche. (I see I haven't lost my ability to randomly generate pseudo-philosophical aphorisms) To every thing there is a season, eh? Odds are very, very good that I will in fact get caught up in things which, in hindsight, are trivial and not worth the energy I expend on them."

What's funny is that it seems trivial to even discuss how trivial the matter was; this seems almost obvious now. And, let me add, almost unworthy of receiving any attention, because it is now utterly out of mind. I'm not the sort who's prone to making new year's resolutions, but for this year, I think that if I manage to get through without any more nonsense like the fear of failing in both semesters, it will be a step in the right direction.

Something which always leaves me in awe is tracing how far my musical tastes progress in a year. I think that at the start of this year, I was still unaware of many things. The album second only to Sgt. Pepper in the split of people who chant that it's the greatest album ever and those who call it overrated trash (The Velvet Underground & Nico), and the immortal declaration therein ("I feel just like Jesus' son"). Dark-ballads, gorgeous pop, and manic poetry by a controversial group facing a serious backlash in these modern times, with perhaps some merit (The Doors and Strange Days). The best pop album no-one's ever heard, the product of one-half of the greatest songwriting duo in rock (McCartney's Ram). And, songwise, Tom Waits' "Martha", which may just be the most beautiful piano ballad I've heard in a long time. Yeah, it's been quite an interesting year for my musical tastebuds, and I look forward to reading this post sometime next year to see just how far things have gone then.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The lonely man's party

This story is pretty interesting, in that once I wrote it I found that I no longer have any desire to think, let alone write, about any of the ideas it brings up (especially the sentiment about a person being condensed into a paragraph). I'm glad I refrained from posting anything during the trip, because I can see things like this in a new (and not necessarily bad) light. One that perhaps makes me want to stop being so serious about everything.

It was sometime in the evening that he decided to turn up, late as usual. I could tell by the cautionary looks he was giving me that he was afraid of my temper, like most other people I knew. For whatever strange reason, there were certain things that I simply could not take, and being late was one of them. My mind was thrown back to one of the few times that I had actually blown up in public – the unfortunate victim being my sister, who was an hour or two late. As with most memories, only fragments come back to me. The beautiful green dress she was wearing. The way she looked at me as she was approaching, which was just the way he was looking at me now. The faceless mass of shocked (yet curious) onlookers. The way her tears streamed down her face, and how she buried it in her hands.

The expression quickly gave way to one of stifled relief, though, because he probably noticed the distant look on my face. He sheepishly extended his right arm to reveal a bottle of wine, in a child-like attempt to appease me. It took me a while to drift away from my sister all those years ago, and mumbled some sort of thanks to him as I accepted the bottle. I was unsure of what exactly to do or say at that instant, so I feigned an interested look at the bottle, putting on my best impression of a connoisseur. Through the corner of my eye, I could tell that he was happy that I did so, as though this validated him in some way. Yet, as it always goes, I had to ruin this potentially blissful moment by noticing the price-tag had not been removed. Curiosity got the better of me, and I stole a quick glance at the (very modest) price, and remarked to myself that I was obviously worth very little to him. Immediately, though, I felt guilty for thinking such a thing, and a wave of sympathy attempted to tide over the lingering doubts as to his true character. As the two mixed and left me with a bittersweet sense of contentment, I offered him a makeshift smile and a glass of his wine.

In truth, I was always interested as to how conversations could take off. One could start with some tidbit from the evening news and by the end of the evening start arguing over the nature of reality. Unfortunately for me, this interest proved to be quite a hindrance when I actually had to carry out a conversation myself. At every pause, I noticed that he would be able to draw in some related item of interest and breathe new life into the discussion. When it was my turn, though, more often that not I would stare at the coffee table and be forced to desperately think about something to say. This was borne out of the fact that my brain would be forever analysing the potential of every new topic I was going to introduce. Too many people mistook this for boredom, whereas in fact it was a cry for help. It always seemed to me that on the rare occasions that I did find something to say, the conversation would once again promptly fall to its feet. Once bitten… Worse still, at several points during his monologues, I would race back to the starter topic and marvel at how far we’d come, but consequently not pay attention to what was actually being said.

This time, though, I somehow managed to pull it off. There seemed to be no end to the things we could talk about, and I found myself actually enjoying talking (instead of just listening). We even got to the story I had gotten published in a magazine, a rare accomplishment for anyone in my (very limited) social circle. We even went over parts of the poem I had used to preface the work, which was perhaps the funniest thing I’d ever done.

The countless days have ended,
As a new one blossoms green and blue,
He sits among books and drinks,
He asks why there is nothing to do.

The party’s over, the guests back in the cupboard,
He sits on the porch with one final whim,
Staring out, he imagines new friends
But no one imagines him

Like most of my accomplishments, as I had written it I thought it to be simply brilliant. But as he looked over it, I was paralysed with a fear that he would burst out laughing; indeed, in that moment of intense self-critique, I even began to imagine it to be the worst piece of writing I’d ever seen. His mere presence converted me into perhaps the harshest critic I’d ever face in my life, and I shredded apart the whole thing line by line. In a cold sweat, I made some self-disparaging remarks, clearly fishing for some sort of affirmation that it wasn’t all that bad. Naturally, he smiled and said it was really good. I should have expected he would; I knew him better than that. Still, I took the magazine and buried it under the pile of newspapers, making a mental note to throw it out tomorrow. I doubted that I could ever look at it again without being reminded of this moment.

As we got deeper into the night, we both noticed that the bottle was now empty. For such a cheap wine, it was surprisingly good. I told him so (naturally omitting the part about it being cheap), and I could sense a genuine sense of happiness on his part. So much so, that I began to wonder whether I was that hard to please. Normally I would dissect such things in my own head, presupposing various things of the people around me, but today was different. For starters, I had just finished half a bottle of wine by myself. With my courage fuelled, I took a deep breath, and asked him just what he, and others, thought of me. The answers surprised me.

Drowned in nostalgia and alcohol, the conversation flowed smoothly across an amazing number of topics, yet always coming back to what both of us loved – intellectual cotton-candy. What this night meant, whether some God was watching it, whether it would exist even under the bright Sun of noon next day, and whether any of it even mattered. It took me back many years, this conversation, and I could tell he felt the same way. For the first time in a long time, I saw him stand up and assume that wonderfully charming pose he always made when he was going to say something profound, and that a half-empty wine-glass should be in his left hand made it all the more fitting. He looked up towards the ceiling, as though addressing the ethereal spirits hovering over the room, and said in a melancholic tone: “I read the paper yesterday, as I do most days, but this time something in particular caught my eye. There was a write-up on a local resident who passed away, and the life he led, what a good human being he was, the family that loved him, what a hard-worker he was and how he helped his company grow. There was even a picture of him, obviously in much happier times…and then it struck me that I could become this man - my life reduced to a few paragraphs and choice quotes of relatives. And I said to myself that this must be the worst fate ever – the colossal nature of one’s existence, one’s feelings and dreams and thoughts and actions, reduced into some lines of print flanked by ads for new cars and yearly sales. Whatever happens to me, I don’t want to become a paragraph, a name in an obituary, a photo hanging over someone’s door. I don’t want to become a character in a story, where someone can read it and then say to themselves “Ah, how complicated a person he must be!”, yet have infinite room for misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the real me, who, I believe, only I can truly know”, he said, and at this point he physically winced, obviously deeply affected by the whole thing. He paused for a while, and briefly concluded, “Sometimes when I walk on the street and pass all these countless people by, I get this…this urge to run up to them, stop them in their tracks and just say ‘Hi, I’m me, I was about to walk by you. Who are you? What are your thoughts? What do you feel when you wake up in the morning? How do you see the world?’. My friend,” and at this point he smiled, “before I go, I wish only that some stranger would stop me and ask me who I was. Not that I’d be able to answer, of course”. I merely sat in mute awe.

Once again I started thinking, this time reflecting on how embarrassed I used to be whenever I talked about things like this with someone else. When such matters were contemplated in quiet solitude, they seemed like the most important things in the world. But when there was someone else to hear them, it made them seem almost…child-like. I often wondered if I was just a child, asking “why” to everything that came alone, dissecting every situation into tiny pieces in my head, and constantly left with this feeling of total powerlessness at the fact that there seemed to be no clear answers. On the rare occasions that such topics did come up in conversations, I always knew mid-way in any of my pseudo-intellectual tirades that I sounded like a fool. What was it? The tone? The subject itself? My own take on it? I’d asked these questions a thousand times before, but still, I had no answer. Temporarily saddened by such thoughts, I looked again at him continuing a swirling and bombastic speech on the nature of morality, and gave him the first genuine smile of the evening.

As it approached midnight, I could tell that tomorrow I would wake up and think this all to be a strange dream. We had now dried up my supply of drinks for a week, and I noticed that my head would beat in an almost soothing rhythm every time I closed my eyes. My mouth tasted funny, and I seemed to be unable to stop obsessively ruffling my hair. He looked like he was taking it a lot better than me, although I was in no state to make such judgements. Just seeing him there, playing with my goldfish (whose memory was better than most, I must say), I once again was thrown back to the past. To a time where I placed no value on his company, and where I actively avoided him. I felt genuinely sad, but didn’t know how to express it.

With these thoughts swirling in my head, I didn’t even notice my eyes shutting, and less still that it was well into the next day when I awoke. Naturally, he had let himself out long before my drowsy awakening. I was forced to feel content, sitting there alone, not a soul in sight, at the start to another new year. I had the feeling that things were different now, but I couldn’t really tell whether that was just the morning playing tricks on me. I wanted to reach for the telephone to wish him a prosperous new year, but I hesitated for a second, and wondered whether things had really changed at all. I sighed, and disposed of the bottle of cheap, cheap wine.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Ah geez, this piece on an interview with Lou Reed gone bad makes me really feel for the journalist, as though I could relate to having one of my idols (though Lou Reed is certainly no idol of mine!) ending up disappointing me. It really breaks my heart to read about how the guy fondly remembers on how beautiful he found some of Reed's works to be, and tells Reed this only to get brushed off rudely. Sigh. But I think I noted the very peculiar nature of Reed a while ago, comparing the crude imagery of "Sister Ray", to, say, the tender beauty of something like "Jesus", and marvelling how the same person could write both sets of lyrics.

I used to spend a fair bit of time on online message-boards dedicated to specific rock musicians, and remember being amazed at the number of truly devoted fans - people who could remember the day on which they bought a particular album, the intangible excitement when the first song started and the euphoria when the album ended, and so on. People who seemed to be genuinely affected by the music, and for whom it also served as a symbol of times past, possibly much better times. Occasionally, the topic would invariably come up of what it would like if the artist the board was dedicated to visited the site. Seeing Reed's reaction, I suppose I am recalling those faceless, nameless masses of people scattered across the internet, and sadly wishing that they don't meet a similar fate to the journalist here.

I also think I mentioned a fair while back that one's idols are also human, and as such are flawed and therefore bound to disappoint if held in some God-like pedestal. I remember Dylan and Lennon used to be two demi-idols at some point during the last four years, but I think the naive, child-like worship has receded today. Yet I don't think Reed was necessarily the journalist's idol, he could just be someone whose music the guy really, really loved from childhood, and who carried those fond memories with him. I can certainly relate to that! Dylan is also notorious for being quite rude for little reason, and I suppose if through some miracle I did meet him, I'd probably receive similar treatment. Then again, Bobby has mellowed out as the years have gone by, heck, he's even written an autobiography, so perhaps he's becoming more open and ready to talk to the world at large.

This post is a mess, and I apologize, for I shouldn't edit posts the minute I get up.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

These are a few pictures from the trip to India I took recently. I realize that none of the pictures will strike the average reader as particularly spectacular, but they all represent something very special to me. I mentioned earlier that I thought that some posts were written just for me, and that they weren't meant to provide any entertainment, insight, or anything at all to the rest of the world. This would probably be one such post.

Now that, children, is how you play the backfoot defense.


The sun only adds to the charm.

Roadside wonders.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

As Roger Daltrey once asked, "Can you see the real me, doctor?". I actually like the original photo, but seem to be unable to post any photo of myself without editing it to the point of near obscurity. This one isn't so bad, but I suppose I still have a few self-confidence issues to deal with.

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Reading over some of the older posts makes me think that I have changed during the trip. I'm not entirely sure, though, for it would require concrete actions to really bring about change in one's life. I don't really care to elaborate in any detail the nature of such changes; to be sure, some are seemingly profound, and such profundity deserves enough respect for me not to mangle it into a terrible, pretentious sermon, the likes of which this little blog has seen one too many times.

I wrote this on the day I landed, and thought it was definitely the result of a tired mind, but I suppose part of me wants to refuse I thought such things. I think the Morrison backlash is starting to begin! Anyway, this is what I wrote:

As I stared into the night sky today, I was reminded of the line "I'll tell you this / No eternal reward will forgive us for wasting the dawn", and, for a brief moment, felt like I understood what Morrison was saying when he said "Out here in the perimeter, there are no stars / Out here, we are stoned immaculate". Cities can be quite beautiful at night. No doubt some part of me wishes to construct some awkward poem detailing how this is so, but it has been suppressed by nausea and a complete loss of the knowledge of what day or time it is. You have to love jet-lag!

The wearying effects of jet-lag still prevail, although I've done virtually nothing to oppose these demons. After all, it has been a long time since I got up just before lunch!

During uni, 6 weeks seems like an excruciatingly long time. These past 6 weeks have been both long and short (another in my endless list of paradoxes). There are many memories to cherish, but still the (inevitable) feeling that I could really have done with yet more time away. Another inevitability from such trips is me pondering my future, and whether I shall return to my country of origin once my "education" is complete. But not everything is so simple now as it used to be; indeed, lots of my family are scattered all around the globe, and as such it seems the US hosts the greatest number of family members at the moment. The realization that perhaps those childhood days where we were all one big family and could see each other anytime have passed has left me deeply distressed in the past, but of late I've come to accept it with weary resignation, forever lamenting the complexities of the world. I suppose after a point, one has to learn to accept the realities, and strive towards any idealistic vision of the future through pragmatism (did that make sense?). Various topics came up during an evening discussion a few weeks ago, and my dearest aunt said that every place had its problems, and that it was upto onesself to decide which problems one wants to face. To paraphrase from a PJ Tracy book*, that just cut through all the wish-washy nonsense that was stagnating in my head and helped me come back to my normal self (yes, it's perhaps over-simplified, but that ain't the point!).

* I don't often read modern mass-market novels, certainly not thrillers, but this was a pleasant enough exception. I even ended up reading The Da Vinci Code, which was also utterly out of character for me (but again, a pleasant enough change of character).