Wednesday, June 29, 2016

'Riding on a Cloud'

“Character and actor are the same person, character and actor are not the same, and the actor is leaving his role—he is not any more actor, and is watching the character playing itself. So it’s between these three, which is shifting all the time, trying to blur the borders between fiction and reality.”

I was hesitant to watch Lebanese playwright and actor Rabih Mroué's mixed-media play 'Riding on a Cloud', billed under the O.P.E.N (SIFA). It isn't the matter of being bored. I rarely am. It's more of how the topics addressed in this play are really personal and I'm not sure I want to think so much about war, conflict and the the pain it inflicts. It feels so far away, and yet not so far away.

It is as I thought. It's pointed, moving, painfully emotional and raw. The friends and I left the show feeling really pensive. Rabih Mroué's plays center around the Lebanese Civil War. This one talks about how his brother Yasser was shot in Beirut 1987. Although Yasser survived with bullet bits in his brain, resulting in partial paralysis and aphasia. The title 'Riding on a Cloud' is derived from Yasser's anthology of poems. It's not so much a focus on the shooting. It's an exploration of how his brother learnt the language again and slowly regains speech, how he now views the world and its realities, of how Rabih views him and the world. 

Besides the above quote, in the same 2015 interview with The New Yorker, Rabih Mroué also said, 

“This is something related to our life and to our history in Lebanon, and to all the versions we are fighting for, and the different ideologies,” he said. “If you accept every version as a reality without accusing it of being fabricated or a lie—if you just accept that there are many versions—then we can start to listen to each other and build a dialogue. Which we miss in Lebanon and this is why we are still going into wars.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Spotted the small bitter gourds (山苦瓜) at the vegetables stall at Tekka Market. BUY! I wanted to eat them, courtesy of a craving induced from reading a book. While it wouldn't be cooked with salted duck eggs (山苦瓜炒鹹鴨蛋黃), it would be stir-fried with salted fish and eggs (山苦瓜炒蛋與鹹魚).

I wouldn't normally cook this dish for guests. There's a certain brackishness that people might not appreciate. Well, it is bitter after all. Not a vegetable to be attempted raw. I don't quite like bitter gourds in soup. I like the full strong flavors upfront in a stir-fry.

Sliced them up. They were a bit thicker than preferred. Oh well. My knife skills aren't competent. Had to be careful not to overcook it. Mushy bitter gourds are quite gross. Coupled with generous squares of salted fish and sweet eggs, that bitter-savory bite of the cooked slices of gourds was fantastic. Simply sprinkle sea salt flakes and grind up pepper bits upon serving.

Added quinoa and bulgar as a side. Needed some carbs. I was hungry after a looong afternoon swim. That was sufficient for a happy one-dish meal. Woot. Not for the fainthearted. Not many would term this mixture as delicious. Haha! Satisfaction level was through the roof. The sliced chilli padi was ace. #impieCooks2016

Don't ask me why I'm cooking so often. I've got moods. I'm in a rut of restaurant-fatigue. Even hawker center chwee kueh indulgences aren't helping. Haven't found a good and convenient nasi padang stall as default yet. Luckily for good som tam available at Golden Mile Complex. Right now, it's preferable to cook my own meals, crash at the friends' dining tables or stick to yoghurt and granola. :P

Monday, June 27, 2016


I'd love to own a physical copy of Scott Snyder's 'Wytches'. The illustrations by Mark Simpson aka 'Jock', are dark and alluring. There's diminished pleasure in flipping through a graphic novel in digital format. But space. Haizzz. (Reviews here, here, and here.)

Thanks for flagging the series in your mid-March library loot, Sharlene!

The series now stands at six chapters (or 'issues' as some would prefer to call it), wrapping up the first arc in Volume 1. The seventh chapter and onwards of the highly anticipated Volume 2 haven't got a release date yet. Maybe Halloween 2016. Dunno. Anyway, it makes it fantastic timing for me to catch up and digest this first arc before the story shifts.

The chapters weave between 2011 and 2014 and present-day. We follow how the Rook family tries to protect their daughter Sailor from her nemesis Annie who bullied her and somehow disappeared in 2011. Years later, they have moved to a new town of Litchfield in New Hampshire, hoping to start over.

Litchfield is a disturbing town where dark secrets and the supernatural sink deep into the people's consciousness. In exchange for supernatural boons, people could pledge another to the wytches in the woods. The wytches live underground, beneath a huge tree with ginger root clumps. A strange green liquid is sprayed onto the pledges to mark them. Then the wytches will come to claim their prizes.

In a twist, we learnt that Sailor's mother Lucy has pledged her in order to protect herself and her husband. Apparently the wytches cook pledges in a cauldron and eat them. Sailor is taken, and her father Charlie is horrified at what his wife did, and rescued Sailor. In retaliation during the ensuing battle where Sailor's evil classmates turned up to insist on her fulfilling the pledge and the howling wytches surrounded them, Sailor pledged all these classmates. A slaughter was inevitable.

I wonder what Volume 2 will hold. Read this first volume at night out on the balcony on a breezy cool night. It was midly creepy. Now I can't get the harsh sounds of the wytches' "chit-chit-chit-chit-chit, chit-chit-chit" out of my head. Imagined the rustling of trees to be from these evil wytches.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Perhat Khaliq & Qetiq

I know nothing about Chinese reality show 'The Voice of China' or now known as 'Sing! China'《中国好声音》, and am not bothered about it. But since Uyghur rock guitarist Perhat Khaliq and his band Qetiq were on the bill of the O.P.E.N at Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), and I was intrigued by the festival's introductory trailer, I attended his concert at the Victoria Concert Theatre.

I know so little of the Asian rock scene. I don't really follow Chinese rock because the lyrics don't speak to me. But once in a while, going to a Chinese rock gig is fun. Hmm, well, see, this is where I don't know if tonight's gig is categorized as Chinese or erm Uyghur, or...... It's a thorny issue on the matter of autonomous regions in China, especially Xinjiang. It's a fine line to tread and Perhat Khaliq is definitely reaching out to audiences within and outside of China. Whatever. Just get on with the music. (Link to Perhat Khaliq's 14:21min performance on 'The Voice of China 3' in August 2014.) 

Perhat Khaliq sings in both Uyghur and Mandarin. In Singapore, he sang mainly in Uyghur and did two Chinese (unfamiliar to me) songs. His wife Pazilet Tursun sings in the band too and joined him for a few songs. His music is a blend of classic and folk rock, and traditional tunes. He also does covers, ballads, writes and sings of love, nature, the plains, blue skies, gratitude for his life, and family. To the best of my understanding, his lyrics aren't even subtly controversial. Tonight, as mainstream as this sort of Uyghur rock sounded, oh yes, happy to hear the band. No flamboyant costumes. Just the musicians and their brand of music. It was a pretty enjoyable gig.

Friday, June 24, 2016

'i know why the rebel sings'

I'm impressed by the bravery and strength of curation for this year's the O.P.E.N at Singapore International Festival of the Arts (SIFA). The content is what I'd term as 'fresh to Singapore audiences', engaging and pointed, not those same-old same-old stuff. Iranian photojournalist and documentary photographer Newsha Tavakolian's exhibition 'I know why the rebel sings' is powerful, haunting and poignant. Themed into seven photos essays, her extensive works captured the angst in Tehran, the dispirited middle-class, then further to Africa to reveal the pain of female genital mutiliation, the resignation and strength of Kurdish female soldiers fighting the Daesh and embroiled in other wars which I barely comprehend.

I was almost moved to tears. imho, Newsha Tavakolian's photos aren't anything lewd or grotesque. They're not the least graphic; they're sobering, direct, brutal and uncomfortable. That's exactly what one aspect of art, artists and storytellers should aim to stir. Life isn't about having lollipops and cotton candy.

I'm sad to see the horrors inflicted upon women, and the lives of 'invisible' women at war, women in extreme poverty, women in conflict-ridden zones, and all not knowing another life. But that's coming from my sheltered privileged eyes. It sounds almost rude to type it out. Newsha Tavakolian uses her craft and her art to deftly tell their stories, reminding the world not to forget them and the atrocities of war and corruption that only seem to have worsened as the world progresses in technology, urbanization and material comforts.

At the Opening of 'I know why the rebel sings', I wasn't surprised by the Festival Director's explanation for the blacked rectangles replacing 15 photos against the backdrop of a map of the conflict region. The photos belong to the series titled 'On the War Trail', depicting photos of Kurdish female soldiers from a terror-linked organization disavowed by Turkey, United States, Japan and Australia, and several other countries. MDA had refused to grant the permits for 30-something photos, and the Festival and the show's curator Vali Mahlouji hastily reconvened and removed some photos and decided on a smaller selection to be exhibited.

At least the show could still open and there're now only 15 black rectangles. Haiizzzzzz. I can tenuously understand why it might be a point of contention. BUT. Are we so insular and easily offended? One should always read the synopsis of a show before attending. This is a reasonably-ticketed exhibition at 72-13. It means the audiences who see the works are people who have opted to do so and are, well, open to the strikingly 'morbid' themes and honesty portrayed. What does MDA think it's protecting us from? Do they think that we're suddenly going to throw our support behind these Kurdish women soldiers and become...radicalized?

Maybe it's trendy to have certain exhibitions and the sorts banned. It tells me that society and organizations are keeping pace with the world, but not our political maturity and that tiny odd shift towards vocal religious conservatism. Or as a friend wryly pointed out- "Perhaps it's really to keep some people from being offended." Riiight. Like people have no access to the internet. Or an international edition of a magazine that has printed these censored photos. I will say it again, thanks for nothing MDA. Keep up your amazing work of fighting technology and liberal art, and have our oversensitive population wrapped up in a safe little cheerful bubble.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

E's Birthday!

Fresh back from a happy 4-day-3-night trek up Gunung Rinjani, E oozed a post-workout glow. We took E out to her birthday dinner at iO Italian Osteria.

Couldn't believe we only ordered three savory items- farmers' salad of grilled vegetables, porchetta stuffed with wild fennel, and tagliolini with prawns and lemon. Much admirable restraint shown. Little did I know that the girlfriends were saving stomachs for dessert. Fainted when three desserts arrived- lemon meringue tart, gluten-free chocolate cake, and a pistachio tiramisu.

E has sternly told us not to get presents, and certainly no flowers. We ignored her. She doesn't mind flowers, but she simply doesn't want us to get it from the shops because she thinks flowers wilt so quickly and are such a waste. So S gathered the flowers from the market and put them together into a beautiful bouquet full of spring colors and vibes. E had fewer objections to this hand-assembled bouquet. Heh.

Had to get her one of her favorite Taiwanese illustrator Jimmy Liao's recent release 'Four Seasons', 幾米《四季》. Was hoping no one had gotten her the book yet! It's an interactive book where one could cut out and paste the characters at various junctures and make them into your own story. How very fun!

The art pieces depicting the stories have been shown in book fairs and museums, but there're infinite possibilities for the story development and setting. It took the illustrator years to decide how best to portray them. If you're familiar with his work, then you'll see the girl and the dog, and the main characters from 《我的世界都是你》'All of My World Is You'.

Many birthday blessings, dearest E. I love our random-ness. Go climb more mountains, metaphorically and literally.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

An Iftar Meal At Home

We've been invited to so many awesome iftar meals that it was time for us to reciprocate with one too. While our kitchen isn't halal, it doesn't do pork and more or less keeps kosher, so it isn't difficult whipping up suitable foods with halal ingredients.

Decided on only three simple items to make an easy meal- vegetarian dum biryani, sambar and the man's latest vegetable obsession- cabbage pesarapappu. Cooked it up over two days to make it a relaxing affair. We were running on a pretty tight schedule this week, and had to ensure the logistics worked fine.

Sorted out the sweet potato, pumpkin and radish masala and the sambar a day earlier. Needed the flavors to soak in properly overnight. That left us an easy few hours the next afternoon to roast the cauliflower, cook the basmati rice, and leisurely layer the biryani in the pot before leaving it to bake in the oven. Everything was ready on schedule.

The friends didn't mind the limited menu, ate all their portions and happily had seconds. Whewww! We even had enough for them to tapau home. Hurrah. The friends came bearing gifts and effectively brought their own dessert. Hahahaha. There were already cut fruits in the fridge, but nicer when the friends added on Kyoho grapes and four flavors of ice-cream.

We've all been traveling and when we get back to town, we're tied up with work. It's often tough to find a common time to meet friends when we run on different schedules, even tougher arranging a time to cook for them. These are people we want to make time for and see regularly. Faeriefolk. It was a great evening spent catching up at home, away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ninja Bowl

Finally swung by Ninja Bowl at Duxton Road for a late lunch with G. It's pretty cool that more eateries are offering such 'healthy bowls'. These are pretty much what I throw together at home. It's easy to whip up and fairly tasty. These bowls could always do with more grains and ingredients, then again, that might push the prices up to S$25 a bowl.

The eatery takes reservations and it was still bustling at 3pm when we strolled in. The coffee was pretty decent. My long black was not sour-acidic. Wheww. Didn't bother with dessert. Spied plenty of cakes for choosing at the counter. Erm, the granola isn't baked in-house for now. That afternoon, I saw them pouring out French Vanilla from a carton easily bought at a supermarket. There's nothing wrong with that, but I have expectations for granola. :P (I've got even higher expectations for what constitutes a good bowl of granola, yoghurt and fruits.)

The main menu sounded good. There was a 'Yasai' bowl of salmon poke and mixed sultanas. Heeeheee. Took a lot for me to decide to skip that. Another time. When our food arrived, I was happy. The Japanese-influenced marinade and cooking style made all the difference to the final flavors of these bowls. Or rather, these are really familiar flavors that I can't quite fault. I picked 'Genki'- grilled unagi with roasted pumpkin, beansprouts, pickled beets and onsen egg. Added carbs in the form of orzo. G had a 'Buta'- Japanese chashu (grilled pork belly), cherry tomatoes, onsen egg, roasted pumpkin, ume-pickled apples. He added quinoa to the combination.

We stepped out for another coffee at nearby MavRx. It was great catching up with G. I've missed him! He's one of my oldest friends and has had rescued me out of silly situations since we were 16 years old. Hahahahah. Fewer instances of that now. :P I'm not helpless. Except we all need dependable friends at a few points in our life. Crazy dude. He just returned to town after five years away, and is ridiculously happy to be back in humidity.