tevere: nate with a thousand-yard stare (thousand-yard stare)
Apparently £10,000 will buy you a Tour de France-winning bike that you can also use to do this:


Damn. On a fucking road bike.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Ugh, I'm pretty sure Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is the best non-fiction (the most interesting, most difficult, most gutting, most enraging) I've read all year. I want to buy dozens of copies and distribute them liberally at work, to everyone I know who works cross-culturally, and to all those otherwise intelligent people (e.g. my own extended family) who like to complain about "those dole-bludging refugees." It's framed by a nuanced, beautifully empathetic account of the medical case of Lia Lee, an epileptic Hmong child who suffered a grand mal seizure at the age of four that left her in a persistent vegetative state (the news that she died this year at the age of 30 was what alerted me to the book's existence), but it's about so much more: it's about the clash of traditional beliefs and Western biomedicine; individual and institutional racism and paternalism; bodily autonomy and the rights of the child; the US's proxy war in Laos and its devastating consequences for an entire ethnic group; the erosion of freedom, identity and hope due to inescapable welfare dependence; and assimilation, multiculturalism, ethnic identity. (There are strong parallels to the Vietnamese experiences documented in SBS's Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta, which I'm guessing isn't viewable outside Australia.) It's a hard book to read-- not because of the way it's written, which is lovely-- but because it's just so emotionally draining. I cried more than once while reading, and at one point had to run to the kacang's cot to scoop her up and reassure myself that she hadn't, you know, died while I wasn't looking, and was probably unlikely to find herself orphaned and starving to death in a landmine-filled jungle warzone.

Details )

Oh man, if I were to try and discuss every element of this book I found fascinating or thought-provoking or saddening or enraging, I'd produce a masters-length thesis. I've dog-eared practically every third page for further contemplation. Highly, highly recommended.

Bonus poll of curiosity:

Poll #11862 Library Books
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 27


Is dog-earing a library book okay?

View Answers

Yes, for everything I find interesting!
2 (7.4%)

Sure, but only to mark what page I'm up to
5 (18.5%)

I wouldn't do it myself, but I don't mind the practice
5 (18.5%)

Nope
11 (40.7%)

SACRILEGE
4 (14.8%)

Underlining?

View Answers

Yes! Others appreciate my contributions!
0 (0.0%)

Pencil only, dudes
1 (3.7%)

I don't, but I like reading what others have found interesting
3 (11.1%)

Nope
13 (48.1%)

SACRILEGE
10 (37.0%)

Musics

Oct. 6th, 2012 12:25 pm
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
I'm posting in the hope that it gets this song out of my head. Apart from being ridiculously earwormy (which we can blame on the originators of said tune, One Direction), it's also quite interesting as a social phenomenon: in the Indonesian political landscape, where most campaigns involve candidates paying (and transporting, and feeding, and providing free t-shirts to) masses of poor people to turn out in 'support', this unofficial campaign video for Jakarta gubernatorial candidate Jokowi brought thousands of middle-class kids voluntarily into the streets in flashmobs, all kitted out in checked shirts that they bought themselves.


Lyrics and translation )

Also in music, I've been enjoying one of The Boy's albums called 'Mali to Memphis' (Youtube playlist), which showcases the West African origins of the American blues. I particularly like this song by Amadou et Mariam:

tevere: brad looking away towards explosion (brad)
Recently I was sitting in one of the parks in my area, reading, surrounded by the kind of people who frequent parks in well-off inner city suburbs during the middle of a workday in spring: young, nicely-dressed white mothers with expensive prams; a lone dad doing crunches while his toddler played on a mat; a couple of students sleeping entwined on a picnic blanket; two young guys sitting under a tree playing the djembe. At one point I looked up and was suddenly struck by a sense of the extraordinary: how safe everyone was, how free of fear, as babies played in the sandpit and parents chatted and the students slept without bothering to keep half an eye open. How lucky we are, I thought, to never have to worry about violence happening to us. And then I finished my book and went home.

Two days later one of my ex-flatmates was cycling to work not far from that park. A little further ahead he saw a pedestrian walking towards him in the bike lane. Perhaps the footpath is closed for repairs or something. Mildly annoyed, he made to swerve around the pedestrian. As they drew level, the man suddenly raised his arm and, revealing a sharp stick in his hand, drove it directly into my friend's face. The force of the blow broke his nose; the stick penetrated his sinus cavity and lodged there. Thrown to the ground, my friend-- somehow still conscious-- attempted to stagger to his feet and had to be held down by a horrified passer-by ("Dude, there's a tree branch sticking out of your face"). It made the news that evening: Cyclist, 35, in stable condition after surgery. The pedestrian had gone on to brutally assault two more people-- a man standing texting at a bus stop, and a woman walking down the street-- before the police tracked him down.

We saw our ex-flatmate a couple of days after he'd been released from hospital, looking like the loser of a pub brawl with a black eye, split lip, nose splint, and a line of black stitches across his cheek. "Still," he said, musing on it, "something like this is so random that it's kind of like being hit by lightning, isn't it?"

I guess for us, it is.
tevere: girl in gloomy cityscape (city girl)
This NY Times article about the physical effects of loneliness reminded me of a book I read a couple of weeks ago, Emily White's Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude. I'm perennially interested in why upper-middle-class people who seemingly 'have it all' can still be miserably, existentially unhappy (see also: Madeleine Levine's The Price of Privilege, which pretty much explains all the rich-kid basketcases I went to school with), and White's memoir is a good insight into one particular reason for unhappiness.

Unfortunately I've already returned the book (and as I was reading it the day I went into labour, my memories of it are a bit... scattered), but there was a lot of interesting stuff in there. White distinguishes between 'alone' and 'lonely' (some people who live alone are lonely, but others enjoy solitude; conversely, partnered people and people with lots of friends can still suffer from loneliness), and argues that despite popular misconceptions, lonely people aren't necessarily introverts, emotional vampires, lacking social skills, or unwilling to meet new people. Instead, loneliness is a quality rather than quantity issue: it stems from the feeling of lacking meaningful connections to others, not 'being friendless'. Short-term, situational loneliness, the kind we can all get when we move to a new city where we don't know anyone, tends to resolve itself over time as we meet new people, but the sufferer of chronic loneliness, for reasons inherent and inculcated, remains unable to connect. Unhappily, chronic loneliness also tends to be self-reinforcing: lonely people, aware that loneliness is regarded by others as a character flaw, often withdraw into themselves out of fear of rejection-- making connection even harder. There's no easy cure, although White suggests that the increasingly-lost state of being in 'passive company' may help:
Passive company is something that’s hard to define but easy to recognize. It’s the comfortable, quiet state of cooking as your spouse reads the paper at the kitchen table, or half-listening from the study while your brother takes a call in the living room. Passive company provides us with the chance to simply be with someone else. It’s time, as Glenn Stalker puts it, “when nothing much is being said.”
Which reminded me of the last panel in this comic explaining how to live with the introverted (ironically forwarded to me by one of my ex-flatmates, an energetic sort who enjoys bizarre-to-me combinations of activities such as, "Let's go for a run together and discuss post-conflict transitional justice!")

The Boy, who's one of those aliens who enjoys unplanned encounters with acquaintances, meeting complete strangers, talking on the phone, going to social events where he doesn't know anyone, and who has around 2000 friends on Facebook, often worries that I'll get lonely. We move around a lot, I don't go out of my way to socialise and meet new people, and I only have a few close friends-- almost all of whom live in different cities, if not on different continents. But I enjoy solitude, I have ample passive company, and most importantly I have something White completely dismisses: online fandom. Fandom gives me shared interests, good conversations, long-term friendships, interesting strangers passing by. I've been in fandom, in one form or another, since I was sixteen; it's not the biggest part of my life, but it's been one of the most enduring.

That said, I wonder if I wasn't content with my offline life, if fandom would be enough. Sometimes I peek into the little windows of people's lives, scrolling past on my network page, and I wonder how many of those people beneath the fandom chatter are lonely, unhappy, just wanting-- waiting-- to connect.

Hmf

Sep. 13th, 2012 12:22 pm
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
This IGN review of the new Cloud Atlas movie kind of irked me:
Having the same actors play multiple roles in the movie was a bad idea. It's not only confusing to keep track of who's who (you may find yourself relying on dress code for a quick reference as the film progresses) but the makeup, especially the makeup used to give the illusion of ethnicity, just does not work that well. Faces just look weird. We've been conditioned to understand that a epicanthal fold on the eyes is an Asian facial feature, for example, so seeing an Asian actor like Xun Zhou play Caucasian is perceptibly wrong.

Firstly, epicanthic folds are not solely an (East) Asian feature. Just speaking anecdotally, off the top of my head I can think of two friends of completely Anglo-Saxon descent who have epicanthic folds. And a quick google on the topic (I know, I know) suggests that they're not completely uncommon in at least some European populations.

Secondly, I dispute the idea that we're conditioned to make assessments of someone's race based on eye shape above all else. Again speaking anecdotally, I have epicanthic folds (albeit with a double eyelid), and I almost always pass for white. My skin and hair colour easily trump eye shape when strangers attempt to determine my ethnicity. When I dyed my hair black or dark brown, markedly more people would ask if I had some Asian heritage. And then there's the author's assertion that "[racially ambiguous] faces just look weird". So mixed-race people with features that are both white and Asian make you uncomfortable because you can't pigeonhole us into one race or another? (Was it Mary Douglas who had that theory that things betwixt and between are unclean, dangerous, to be shunned?) ... And I'm just going to leave that one there.

Thirdly, I can't read the sentence, "seeing an Asian actor... play Caucasian is perceptibly wrong" and not immediately think of the longstanding and still continuing tradition, in Hollwood and elsewhere, of blackface and yellowface (Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, anyone?). I don't presume that the author necessarily supports the corollary of his statement, i.e. that it's less "weird" or "perceptibly wrong" for white actors to play other races, but given context, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. [ETA: Actually, I do presume, because apparently there's yellowface in the movie and somehow the author doesn't see fit to mention the weirdness of that! h/t [personal profile] liviapenn]

...

I totally want to see Cloud Atlas, despite not having read the book (Youtube trailer). I love the trope of reincarnation, and the idea of people repeating their mistakes over and over through the ages. (Redemption, ha!) Perhaps I imprinted on too many Katherine Kerr books back in the day.

I made this

Sep. 1st, 2012 03:29 pm
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
077 (2)

Well, except the amazing eggplant hat, which is by the multi-talented [personal profile] norah

And now, I nap.

(ETA: Girl!)
tevere: ray making 'facepalm' gesture (facepalm)
I... don't even know what to say.
This August 9th Mentos calls on you* to celebrate not just National Day, but National Night too - and help give our population spurt [sic] it so desperately needs.

*Only financially secure adults in stable, committed, long-term relationships should participate.



"Like a government scholar, I want to cram real hard."

"Let's put a bao in your oven."

"I can't wait to buy a $900 stroller. It's going to be a really, really, really fancy stroller."

"Raise that flag, get mobilised, and let your patriotism explode."

*facepalm*
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Masters of War (Pegasus Rising Remix) by [livejournal.com profile] bironic. Imperialism in SGA.

Yes, yes, yes and yes. Some people thought it could've done without the last line; I thought it was perfect. It's a line I've heard so many times, from the mouths of fictional characters and real people both, and every single time it makes me so furious that I can't breathe.

I was rewatching Quantum of Solace the other day, and when I mentioned to The Boy how much I'd enjoyed it (I'd forgotten how it hits my every single button oh my god, but that's a post for another day), he said, "Is that the one with the stupid oil-for-water plotline?" To which: yes, admittedly stupid, but unlike most of the low-brain-quotient/comfort media I consume, the international politics of it didn't actually leave me frothing at the mouth and wanting to stab a Hollywood scriptwriter in the eye with his or her own pencil.

Bit sad, really, that it's so hard to find something to be fannish about that's not actively enraging.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Last week a couple of friends and I went to hear New Yorker writer Katherine Boo speak at Sydney Uni about her new book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Boo is a white journalist from the US, married to an Indian, who spent four years visiting, observing, interviewing and writing about the residents of a small slum illegally located on the outer edge of the Mumbai international airport. It actually wasn't the most interesting session, given that Boo's 'partner in conversation' was a faculty anthropologist who didn't seem that comfortable in the role and didn't ask any particularly difficult questions, but it did give me the impetus to finally get around to reading the book (which had been languishing on my to-read list for months). The one thing that really piqued my interest in the talk was Boo briefly touching on her decision to minimise her own presence in the narrative, in contrast to the academic approach of explicitly acknowledging the external observer's presence and unpacking its impact on people's responses and behaviours. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is basically a non-fiction book about real people and real events that reads like a well-plotted novel in an intimate third-person POV, and to say I was highly sceptical about the accuracy and appropriateness of this approach would be an understatement.

Hmm, this got long )

Recommended, even if perhaps the safest route is to take the text as a series of broadly representative stories, rather than the actual literal truth of history as happened.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Faulty wiring in one of our former rooms set the ceiling insulation on fire last night, and it's just a matter of luck that our replacement noticed it before he fell asleep, and before the fire spread to the rest of the roof or the shed out the back (which is full of highly flammable varnish dust, being a former furniture factory). As it was, firetrucks were summoned and our replacement's stuff suffered water damage from all the ensuing fire-fighting efforts.

Sucks for him, but I certainly feel ridiculously lucky right now.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Unlike this super-cute fox, I would never voluntarily seek out a hug. To me, hugging has always been this alien ritual: awkward, slightly unpleasant in the manner of a damp handshake, and best avoided.

tevere: ray making 'facepalm' gesture (facepalm)
So there's this popular story being recced everywhere at the moment for a fandom I'm not at all into, but I was tired after a long week and thought what the hell.

The characters are these two INTERNATIONAL PEOPLE OF MYSTERY who are SUPER AWESOME at their jobs. They spend one night in Hong Kong! The next in Santiago! The night after that in Lisbon! For years on end, with nowhere to call home! They are just that well-travelled and worldly!

One person drugs the other person and takes him to a SECRET LOCATION. Drugged person wakes up in a beautiful house with a beautiful view, and sees that he's in an unidentified valley SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD. Person thinks to himself, "Man, I really don't know where I am. If I had a couple of days, I could at least narrow it down to what hemisphere I'm in, based on the weather."

AHAHAHAHAHAHA SORRY DID YOU SAY YOU WERE ACTUALLY GOOD AT YOUR JOB? You have travelled somewhat in the past, have you not? Later you see a Jeep Wrangler, presumably with country-specific numberplates (and in either left- or right-hand drive), and you can't immediately tell what CONTINENT you might be on, let alone what hemisphere you're in? Also, you ask if the water is safe to drink. There's actually quite an easy test for this: if you're in a (modern, well-appointed) kitchen and there is no source of water other than the tap (e.g. a water dispenser, or a telltale stack of bottled water), then the tap water is probably safe to drink, yo. And while you're in the kitchen, open the fridge and use your SUPER POWERS OF OBSERVATION to read some product labels and make an educated guess about your location.

I mean, really.

/rant
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
It being a miserably rainy day, I spent the afternoon curled up with cups of tea, Smitten Kitchen's rhubarb snacking cake (less attractive without the streusel layer, but indeed still addictively snackworthy), and Zen Cho's new book, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. Which I did think was well done and likeable, but unfortunately contained a storyline I've apparently just realised is one of my personal squicks: [spoiler redacted]. ) I guess everyone has their own set of topics that they can't really enjoy in romcom soft-focus (you know: for some people it's hooker-fic, for others it's alien sex pollen dubcon, the list goes on), so it's definitely a "it's not you, it's me" kind of thing.

Pondering the (to me) unromantic topic of [spoiler redacted] reminded me of an... odd... experience I had the other night. Which I now realise I can't talk about without putting the whole thing under the spoiler cone of silence, so I suppose all I can say out here is: contains discussion of bodies and excretory functions. )
tevere: spock and uhara, intimate (spockuhara)
I haven't been particularly fannish lately-- partly due to all the travelling I've been doing, partly because of leaving behind my lovely fangirls in Melbourne (sob!), and partly due to just not clicking with the current fannish zeitgeist. (I will maintain a diplomatic silence on the topic of The Avengers.)

A while ago, though, I stumbled across one of [personal profile] mementis's recs (er, I think it was from [personal profile] mementis) for a novel-length Star Trek reboot story and saved it without much thought for following through and reading the whole thing. Last night I finally cracked it open, and HOLY MOTHER OF GOD could I not stop until midnight and 100,000 words later. An immensely satisfying reading experience, and one I haven't had in fandom for a good long while. (Which speaks more of how little I've been reading, obviously, rather than the quality of available stories.)

The Lotus Eaters by [archiveofourown.org profile] aldora89

Stranded on the planet Sigma Nox while searching for a missing away team, Spock and Kirk find themselves pitted against a disturbing native life form. With the captain out of commission on a regular basis and Spock struggling to preserve his stoicism, staying alive is difficult enough – but when a slim chance for escape surfaces, their resolve is truly put to the test. Together they must fight for survival in the heart of an alien jungle, and in the process, uncover the mystery of the planet’s past. Slow build K/S.

There are so many things that impressed me about this story, but two things in particular really made it stand out in my mind from a lot I've read recently. The first thing is that the storytelling was masterful: tightly controlled, interesting, and with a great page-turning quality. The mild horror of the early scenes develop into a wonderfully engaging, suspenseful middle act where Kirk and Spock struggle to survive and, in the process, slowly piece together the planet's (fascinating) history. The second thing I particularly loved was just how vivid and visceral the depictions of the alien planet were. The landscapes, the flora and fauna-- everything was brilliantly rendered, sometimes to truly terrifying effect (I had alien-related nightmares last night, I'm just saying), with the result that the story felt present and alive on the page. A lot of Star Trek feels kind of grey and blah to me, courtesy of too many industrial interiors, but this was wonderful, inspired worldbuilding.

To be honest, I almost could've done without the K/S and the final act, I just wanted to wallow in the adventure so much. I wanted more of that world, and the new characters and mysteries! Highly recommended for when you want a long, absorbing read.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
So imagine me making that Keanu Reeves whoa face, which basically sums up my feelings regarding experiencing ADSL again for the first time in, oh, a month or so. First there was the two weeks in Japan-- which, while obviously a very wired society, has remarkably inaccessible internet for the casual traveller-- and then there were two weeks in Timor-Leste, where internet speeds have drastically increased since I lived there two years ago (and the number of wireless hotspots has increased from two to four!), but when your baseline is "takes fifteen minutes to load one email, and doesn't work at all when it rains", there's still a long way to go towards customer satisfaction. And then there was the internetless week after moving into our new place. But now we have internet, and a flat in which there are only TWO PEOPLE, and life is looking up.

During those dark, internetless times, though, I managed to read some actual books. I read, and disliked, Dunnett's first Lymond book (sorry, [livejournal.com profile] freece!). Unsympathetic person that I am, I spent most of the time wishing that Lymond would just get over his goddamned manpain already. On the other hand, I'm now on Book 4 of Dunnett's House of Niccolò series, which I'm greatly enjoying despite some discomfort at the Orientalism and depictions of 15th century colonialism. Nicholas's competence, scheming, and restrained manpain (which fuels all his victories as well as his terrible mistakes), is just my cup of tea. I'm interested in comparing him to Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell (by all accounts another ridiculously competent but ultimately fallible character), so I've got Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies in the queue for when I run out of Dunnett.

Recently, I've also loved Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, perhaps better known on the internet as Sugar. I know there are people who can't stand her, but I love her unflinching honesty, her understanding of grief, and most of all: her seemingly boundless compassion. The internet can be such a bitter, cynical place that I've come to treasure her compassion and generosity in extending a human connection to the people who need it most. Her columns are wise and humane and hurt and hopeful, and sometimes I just sit there and read a string of them and sob. (Some of my favourite Sugar columns are: How You Get Unstuck, We Are All Savages Inside, The Baby Bird [warning for sexual assault of a minor], and Write Like a Motherfucker.) I think reading Wild is a particularly touching experience if you know, through her column, Sugar's older, infinitely understanding self. Wild is a young woman's raw howl of hurt and grief and betrayal, and even as you see her take steps towards her future self, you can't help but know how much more she has to go before she becomes the Sugar we know. It kind of broke my heart. I wanted to protect her; to tell her it'd be okay in the end. That while suffering isn't for anything, those experiences nevertheless ended up becoming an integral part of a beautiful, admirable, whole, human being. Highly recommended if you're a Sugar fan.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
A stunning series of photographs by German photographer Martin Klimas. He dropped small porcelain figurines of martial arts warriors and, using a high-speed camera, captured the moment they touched the ground:

Two of my favourites )

I love the danger and ephemerality of the images, powerful but simultaneously subject to the process of irreversible decay. Rightly or wrongly, it strikes me as an incredibly Asian aesthetic. Just a week or so ago I was in Japan, coincidentally during the five-day window of peak cherry-blossom viewing in Kyoto, and as [personal profile] qian said recently: you can see the flowers falling apart as you watch, and day by day they thin and shrink until all that's left are bare branches and the beginnings of tiny new leaves. I'm a bit of a sakura cynic (mainly due to the hordes of drunken picnickers and other tourists), but even I found the sight humbling and bittersweet. Beautiful precisely because it contains the seeds of its own destruction, not in spite of it, and once that beauty's gone there's nothing in Heaven or Earth that can get it back.

It reminded me of one of my favourite movies, Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, the Chinese title of which captures the tone of the movie better than the English: a bittersweet recollection of something fleeting, impossible, beautiful, long gone. 花樣年華, The Age of Blossoms.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Entertained myself on the plane ride back from Japan this morning with a rousing game of Murakami Bingo (played with a copy of 1Q84, a wrist-breaking tome of approximately 1000 pages):

1. First reference to an obscure piece of classical music: page 3

2. First reference to a male character's formative experience being a (sexual/sexualised) betrayal by his mother: page 13

3. First lesbian sex scene: page 29

4. First time a woman thinks way more about her own breasts than most women normally do (aka. the George R. R. Martin school of the female POV): page 34

5. First time a man experiences desire for a nubile but kooky schoolgirl: page 45

6. First mention of Cutty Sark whiskey: page 55

7. First mention of jazz playing on the radio: page 55

8. First time a hot 20-something woman sleeps with balding, 50-something man: page 61

I think I'm going to make my ninth bingo square the first reference to a US fast food chain (Denny's has always been a Murakami favourite, no?), and then I'm going to call it quits. I got better things to read than the n-th iteration of some middle-aged dude's fantasyland.

Weeping sakura tree in blossom over a Zen rock garden
Obligatory sakura photo
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Food in the Solomon Islands:

Small store selling tinned and dry goods
Typical town grocery store. Top: Biscuits, Indomie (ramen). Middle: Oil, cordial, milk powder, curry powder (one of the only commonly used spices in the Solomons), drink mixes. Bottom: Canned meat, canned fish.

More below )

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