26 May 2007

Tragic Scorpions

Scorpions - Still Loving You

Time, it needs time
To win back your love again.
I will be there, I will be there.

Love, only love
Can bring back your love someday.
I will be there, I will be there.

Fight, babe, I'll fight
To win back your love again.
I will be there, I will be there.

Love, only love
Can break down the walls someday.
I will be there, I will be there.

If we'd go again
All the way from the start,
I would try to change
The things that killed our love.

Your pride has build a wall, so strong
That I can't get through.
Is there really no chance
To start once again?
I'm loving you.

Try, baby try
To trust in my love again.
I will be there, I will be there.

Love, your love
Just shouldn't be thrown away.
I will be there, I will be there.

If we'd go again
All the way from the start,
I would try to change
The things that killed our love.

Your pride has build a wall, so strong
That I can't get through.
Is there really no chance
To start once again?

If we'd go again
All the way from the start,
I would try to change
The things that killed our love.

Yes I've hurt your pride, and I know
What you've been through.
You should give me a chance
This can't be the end.

I'm still loving you.
I'm still loving you,
I need your love.
I'm still loving you.
Still loving you, baby...

23 May 2007

Bloggedy Blog

I thought that title was funny!!

Armed with my friends advice I've been trying to make myself feel good.

So I am going to enumerate the 'good things' happening in my life today and really really focus on those wonderful things that I don't take the TIME to appreciate. The really really simple things that slip me by because I'm too busy being perfectionistic.

Ok, here goes.

1. I'm not at work today. This means I am free and my own person. No one owns me, or my time. I'm wearing whatever I want, that is, my favourite tshirt from Zara. And no one can piss me off. It's great!

2. At lunch today, I went to Suncrane and ate the BEST Ebi Don EVER! It's simple but divine: two large fried prawns resting on a mound of glorious soft Japanese rice in a lovely sauce. The entire thing is smothered with a partly cooked whole egg and myriads of fried onions rings. I just love it when the rice is damp and when the egg yolk is still intact. I could live on Japanese food.

3. Our fridge and freezer had been disturbingly empty for the last 5 days. It got to the point where I had to force feed Jason with the remnants of some frozen crumbed fish and an old packet of oven baked fries. I added a bowl of frozen corn as a side salad. (I know I'm a shocking wife!)
Anyway, Jason is working from home today so we went shopping and now we have food again!! Hooray!!!
Ahum. I know, you wonder why I can't go shopping by myself. Well if you had only seen the size of our trolley load today you would understand. I tried to manoeuvre it myself but I'm afraid it was manoeuvring me instead.... Hmm. Nearly got run over on the escalator. I'm just a pushover I guess. LOL.

4. I spent last night watching YouTube videos of Asia Argento. One in particular that I loved was her reading in a restaurant. She's great, looking relaxed and without makeup. I love that woman. She is so damn talented and REAL. I'd be her friend any day. Or other things.

5. I got full marks for my mid semester psychology exam. There were 420+ students sitting for that exam and I think only 17 of us got full marks! Sounds shallow, but I feel special. But honestly, I'm relieved considering it would have been pretty embarrassing for an engineering graduate to stumble at a stats exam. Especially when the formulas were provided!

6. I'm nearly finished reading "The Devils" (Dostoyevsky) and I'm loving it.

7. I am blessed with very good friends.

22 May 2007

IT Hell - a developer's reality

One encounters all sorts of characters at work.

Let's start with the bad management. Bad Management is that thing that speaks to you by halves yet advocates open communication. It's that body of near-psychopathic individuals who relish on knowledge they have over others and use this knowledge to manipulate people. What for you ask? Oh, it really depends what for. Let's see, as a development pawn for example, you may be used as a tool to make them look good, or as a scapegoat should something go wrong, or as a piece of leverage to obtain further favours from someone they see as worth sucking up to in this mad rat race that is their life.

If you are too brilliant for your own good, don't wait to be recognised. Bad management sees it as imperative that good employees are never recognised lest they become too arrogant and demand pay rises or heaven forbids, that they come to expect all sorts of things like respect. And by respect, I don't mean the respect that they strategically show by grovelling to you when they need something done, no after all, you are paid to work, are you not? No, I mean the respect that comes in evidence from management that does not screw you whenever it wants to or whenever it needs to gain points from clients. The respect that is evident from someone who apologises when they make a mistake that completely ruins your work or causes you to lose face in front of a client. Or simply, the minimum respect required to tell you the same thing they choose to tell those clients. That sort of respect. You know, not looking down at you, thinking "And Laura doesn't even know the last of it! If she only knew!"

Because in fact, I know. And it's pissing me off greatly.

Bad Management. It's that irreproachable body of self-professed do-goders who gladly use the authority that their role of 'manager' or 'director' imparts them, to assert that they are always right and that you are such a fool for doubting their good will. To be such a manager is to do absolutely nothing productive save for pretending that unknown to you, the lowly developer, management has thought of everything and that all is progressing as planned, that is, as per their omnipotent contingency plan. Oh, what, you have a problem? Don't worry, don't let it get to you!! Don't expect much support from this sort. Words fly out of their mouths for their own amusement. I suspect they like the sound of their own voices as they prance around next to your desk declaring how everything can be solved and that you really don't have to worry about anything... except for reading the client's mind, designing for a system that has only been half specified by the client, developing a system from scratch on your own, managing client expectations that have been rudely misled and making do with management incompetence.

I'm actually getting better at mind reading. It's the management incompetence that is a problem.

The imbecile client. This one throws tantrums. They know what they want but it's completely besides the point. For example, if you demand to know how a particular functionality should behave prior to designing it, they wouldn't have the faintest clue. Once you have raked your brain to design a system and given them this functionality on a silver platter, they insist that it is not exactly what they wanted and could you not please change this and that. At the same time you will soon discover that the requirements will multiply threefold and that all your estimates can be thrown out the window. It's true, they could have told you earlier what they wanted and saved you a lot of pain, but they seem intent on remaining mysterious. (Do not begrudge them for it. It is that very mystery which gives them an aura of respectability.) On the other hand, when it comes to absurd little details like images and look and feel....you know, those important features that only dumb developers could ignore since they do not know the value of aesthetics and marketing, the client has plenty to crow about. So intent are they on picking on the minutest details of a screen's layout and criticising the line up of images that they will in fact forget to send you the said images. One can't win.

And as an aside, I do value the look and feel of a product. I will gladly praise a graphic artist for his lovely work. But can the reverse be said? Will a graphic artist ever praise my database design? Will they ever view my code and be thrown into a state of ecstasy? Of course not. So it seems to me a little hypocritical to expect developers to value the business side of IT when the business side of IT cares nothing for developers. Let's be fair don't you think?

The demanding client. This one not only throws tantrums, they will pursue you on the phone or stalk you with SPAM until you are so bullied that you can no longer think about your code, let alone think productively.
If you tell your manager that the client is literally making you sick, your manager will tell you to 'not let it get to you'. Believe me, they will. Especially if that client has an impressive network of potential clients from which your manager may have something to gain. Believe me, life is that ugly. In those circumstances, you need to withdraw yourself from the situation. Purge your rage. Do what I do, for example. Draw obscene drawings of samurai women wielding bloody katanas and paste these doodles on your work monitor. Or still, put your phone on "Do Not Disturb" and tell Admin to take your calls for you.

There are ways to deal with these sorts. Bury yourself in the wonderful world of Code. The abstract has never been so comforting. Indulge in your smug geekiness where no harm can come to you. Google away at some obscure function and teach yourself something to cheer yourself up. I mean really....Did you really think that you, an introverted, idealistic developer could succeed even for one second in pretending to fit in this world? Did you believe that you could have been normal, you know, an extraverted, pathological liar intent on climbing the social ladder? Forget it. Enjoy not fitting in. It is better for your sanity.

16 May 2007

Belated Postcards - Lucerne

We are now in one of my favourite cities in the world. It's somewhere inside the land of chocolate, good manners, snow, watches and UN-everything. Yep, you guessed it! We are in Switzerland.

Ditch Geneva and catch a train across to Lucerne. Here is some of the gorgeous scenery that you can expect along the way. These photos were taken on a train ride between Interlaken and Lucerne. One of my potential retirement spots...

Btw all these photos were taken in July 2005. The following views of Luzern/Lucerne can be your reward after an exhausting climb up a hill. You can see the old city wall on the left hand side of the first photo. These ramparts make for a great afternoon trail if you have the energy and are keen on going up and down the rail-less, steep steps inside each of several watch towers.
The medieval bridge with its hut like hairy roof is straight from some Asterisk in Switzerland issue. Loved it.

I remember really appreciating the architecture in Luzern.

My take on the Chapel bridge. This bridge dates back from the 14th century.

Old me against the Chapel bridge backdrop. I looked like a nurse who'd just been dipped in chocolate! :)

Lucerne by night.

3 May 2007

Curse of the Golden Flower versus The Banquet

Well, what will it be?
Cinematography genius Zhang Yimou or the new in epic drama, Feng Xiogang.
In their respective film roles, who makes the greatest impact? The long suffering, fiery Gong Li or the icy, calculating Zhang Ziyi?

For me, The Banquet wins hands down. Incidentally, I saw The Banquet last October, in a Beijing cinema with English subtitles. My intertextual experience was enlivened by the fact that no fewer than two hours before, I had been exploring the walls of the Forbidden City and taken in the intrigues of the cunning Empress Cixi. And while The Banquet is not set in the Forbidden City and is evidently not set during the Qing dynasty, you can probably imagine how much awe Tan Dun's music inspired in someone who was already highly intoxicated with the sights of China.

While The Banquet has been criticised for not embodying elements of Chineseness, I want to vouch for its subtlety and its elegant form. Mostly I was impressed by the film's graceful cinematography and its exquisite art direction. Every shot is an artwork all to itself and pays homage to the beautiful natural settings (some scenes were magnificently filmed in the Anji Bamboo forest, Jiangsu province) and even combat scenes evoke some sort of fragile, ethereal dance. The Banquet, with its intriguing and never obvious characters, with its masks, with its play within a play, with its dramatic narrative and unresolved conclusion, evinces the understated Eastern traditions more so than the vibrant and often cacophonic Curse of the Golden Flower. Never mind that The Banquet alludes to Shakespeare's Hamlet and that Tan Dun's score is a perfect synchrony of both Western and Eastern sounds, the Chinese essence remains.

Don't get me wrong, I love Zhang Yimou's work, particularly Ju Dou, Red Sorghum and House of Flying Daggers. But as I watched Gong Li sweat at length over her gilded embroidery and submit to the ridiculous orchestrated ritual of sipping poisoned brew at each count of the astrological hour, I became somewhat unsettled. I felt as if culture was being slapped in my face. The ongoing patriarchal sadism, albeit a testament to Confucian order, often bordered on the burlesque. This excess is further evident in the ostentatious, gold fabrics that are in sharp contrast to the relatively monochrome reds and whites in the Banquet. And it's not just that. Some of the scenes seem to have been especially shot to remind the world of modern China's omnipotence in mass production. Where Zhang Yimou's previous films celebrate China in what has been termed a narcisstic display of peasant songs, national colors and minorities, here, he repeatedly draws on symbols that connote line manufacturing, speed, brutal efficiency and sheer hysteria. The brilliant cinematography has become a tool to illustrate the giant machine that is China. From the rows of concubines, to the myriad of medicinal pots, to the thousands strong army of soldiers, to the mass of yellow flower beds.... Everything is presented as a soulless part, a figurant in some mechanical powerhouse that must at all cost continue to operate, even as blood is spilled, as wilted flowers are sweeped and as poison is ritually served. If that is the so called Chineseness that has allowed Curse of the Golden Flower to make an appearance in the US Academy Awards then it fascinates, more through its fearmongering hysterical images than for its cultural significance. Or it may be that I refuse to admit to this sort of cultural significance, it is much too ugly.

In Curse of the Golden Flower, there is this repeated tendency to semiotically express the obvious about a country. It is almost as if the film assumes that we are ignorant of this, the world's oldest continuous civilisation. For example, a long drawn out scene hints to Chinese medicinal sophistication and makes a redundant effort to assert this glorious culture. Overall, it is the realisation that the film panders both to national narcissism and Western fearmongering that is nauseating. I felt as if Gong Li were not alone and as if I were, myself, enduring the effects of some toxic substance. But this is after all, art.

Both films are works of art, it is true. But if one is deemed more Chinese than the other, it is entirely for the wrong reasons.

Gong Li is my favourite Chinese actress, yet I did not feel as drawn to her, nor did I feel as sympathetic towards her character as I did with Zhang Ziyi's tormented, yet ambitious character. Zhang Ziyi impressed me with her perfect portrayal of self-preserving inscrutability, her character's sudden physical outbursts and jealous passions. She was a nymph transformed into a vampire cat and yet, I still sympathised. Just as he did in his earlier film, Ju Dou, Zhang Yimou appears to martyrise Gong Li in Curse of the Golden Flower. Yet she was more credible an actress, at the hands of her brutal husband in Ju Dou and even there, her caustic vengeance was more engaging than in this later film. In Curse of the Golden Flower, I was confused and emotionally removed as I watched the poisoned empress needling away through some obscure stratagems, in a futile attempt to avenge herself.

Finally, the buzz around Curse of the Golden Flower too painfully reminds me of themes raised by Edward Said in his Orientalism discourse. One has only to observe the overdone veil of mystery and intrigue surrounding this film. There is this eagerness to target an audience with elusiveness, dark plots, with promises of secrets and foreign mysteries all dramatically revealed within the walls of the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City? To begin, Curse of the Golden Flower is set during the Tang dynasty where the seat of the throne was Xi'an not Beijing. In fact the Beijing Forbidden City we know today was only constructed much later, during the early Ming dynasty. So the fact that Curse was adeptly filmed on the grounds of the Forbidden City is perhaps a curiosity in itself but is irrelevant to the historical setting. I feel that too much smoke has been used to draw audiences.

Both films are a great experience to watch but my preference is with The Banquet.

2 May 2007

Belated Postcards - Annecy

Introducing my new Les Nuits Masquées feature, a series of travel anecdotes and photos from all over the world. I have named this cool new feature "Belated Postcards" because they are after all, restrospective, in that they were taken (by me) over many years of globe-trotting. So there will be photos from different years, not in any order, and from a great number of places, really, I'm not kidding. Lots of photos from many places in the world... well the bits I've seen anyway. So to some of you, it won't be that many bits - who am I kidding, some of you have travel opportunities that I could only dream of - but then again to me, they are good bits, precious bits, they are my life and if I share this with you, it is because I want to celebrate this beautiful planet. So then, it begins with Annecy.

This is lake Annecy, France's second largest lake and the cleanest. The lovely city of Annecy is located south of Geneva in eastern France. So it is not far from the French Alps meaning that lovely clean water has fed into the lake. There are many swimming and water sport activities to be enjoyed around the lake's vicinity.

All these photos were taken in the morning on 12 July 2005.
We drove to Annecy from Dijon and parked around the lake before proceeding on foot to the old town. Markets were being held during that day. I can still smell the array of fresh breads, the many French cheeses and I think there was a chocolate confectionary factory as well where you could complete a short interactive course and receive chocolate freebies afterwards. Pity I didn't get a chance to try that but I opted instead for my favourite: a Nutella/chantilly gauffre from one of the many Gauffres/Crepes stalls.