Saturday, 31 January 2009

A Great Birthday Gift

There is no better birthday gift than reading good things about someone whom I love.

Today, despite the lumbar back pain, which earns me two more day-offs on sick leave next week, I received the latest copy of Muse Magazine, in which Rosetta Lui wrote a review of Anita Mui's Faithfully Anita Mui, a three-CD compilation of her popular works.

I can't agree more with what the writer said about Anita's remarkable but underrated singing, which has often been neglected or overlooked by a bunch of visual-driven spectators and industry players who pay little attention to vocals. Just to copy a few words from the two-page review that I can never articulate at the same level of eloquence:

"If Bruce Lee breathes new life into Chinese kung fu by turning it into part psychological drama, part visual spectacle, Anita revolutionises Cantopop by 'externalising' and 'acting out' the feelings and emotions that the melodies and lyrics of the songs only hint at and never fully articulate."

"Anita's stage performances were incomparable. This often eclipses the fact that she was one of the greatest vocalists that have lent their voices to Cantopop. James Wong spoke for many when he said that of all the great songstresses who had covered the classic The Tears of a Lover, only Anita sang it in a way that made him cry."

"Anita regarded herself as a woman who sings for a living, and her greatest talent as a vocalist lay in her ability to turn melancholy into art, primal scream into poetry and sobbing into singing. In that, she should be compared to the great French singer Edith Piaf."

"Anita might have basked in fame in her prime, but she never accumulated power. With each song and each performance, she gave away everything she had. This almost selfless dedication to her chosen profession is what made her final performances, given at the Hong Kong Coliseum in 2003 as Anita Classics Moments Live Concert a couple of months before her death, so heartbreaking and fitting at the same time."

To be honest, I have nothing else to add. This is the best tribute to Anita I have ever read.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009





如果真的深愛過,曾經擁有就夠了嗎?最近看了《奇幻逆緣》(The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)和中央電視台三年多前的《白蛇傳》,心情仍是混亂不堪,一顆心沉甸甸地,好像有很多話想說,又說不出個所以然來。套用一句內地網友的流行語,就是我給「雷」到了,而且給雷得太厲害,連頭髮也有點燒焦的味道。


其實 Benjamin和Daisy,也算得上「白頭到老,永結同心」了,只是Benjamin年老的樣子,跟普通人不一樣。其實初生嬰兒和年邁垂暮之人,與死亡同樣接近,但給人的感覺卻是截然不同。一個充滿喜悅和希望,另一個卻是風中殘燭,隨時都會熄滅。變成嬰兒的Benjamin,在Daisy懷裡閉上眼睛,可能是一種福氣;不過對於Daisy,卻是在錐心之痛當中,再添上一抹無法揮去的遺憾和失落。原以為可以相依到老的臂彎和肩膊,到頭來卻變得那麼脆弱、那麼微小。



Saturday, 24 January 2009


望湖心蕩漾,皺水輕吹,揉碎餘暉。落日青橋畔,暮雲新柳外,又見春歸。似寒乍暖時節,漁火映眠遲。問十里煙波,聲聲欸乃,幾縷情絲? 癡兒,未參透。縱一往情深,難賦齊眉。不怨分釵劫,恨來生無路,攜手相隨。謝伊一紙油傘,相對共忘機。聽暮鼓昏鴉,空山寂寞連理枝。

Friday, 23 January 2009

Back to the Basics

Three nights ago I stayed up late to watch the inauguration ceremony of the 44th President of the United States live on television.

Quite deservingly, this is probably the most widely watched inauguration in history. At a time when people are losing trust and confidence in one another and even themselves, we all need to look up from someone with a hard-earned success for hope and the motivation to move on.

Barack Obama's inaugural address did not contain as many sound-bites as many supporters and commentators would have expected, but this absence does not prevent his speech from being a great example of the power of the basics - the basic and simple things that define who we are and yet we don't really remember that well, as much as we should do.

Without any subtitles and annoying disturbance of the news anchor, I tried to listen carefully to every single word Mr Obama said very early on Wednesday morning. What impresses me most was his emphasis to return to the traditional values of the United States that define who they are and how they succeed. According to the transcript of CNN, Mr Obama concludes as follows:

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.

I can't agree with him more. As the old Chinese saying goes, "We should all remember where the water comes from when we drink." Knowing our roots and keep them in mind from time to time is a basic requirement for many generations who wanted to stay confident in the face of challenges and adversities. Confidence comes from our roots, or the strong belief of who we are and what we can always adhere to. Setting aside the scepticism over the Obama administration's capabilities to keep Mr Obama's promises, this timely reminder should at least be sufficient in keeping people's hopes and courage aglow.

Mr Obama's inaugural address that put a great emphasis on tradition also prompted me to think about China. At a time when many people, whether voluntarily or reluctantly, look on to China for economic rescue, China still seems to be faltering at a crossroad, not knowing where it should go and what it wants to be. Some are very proud and complacent about what it has achieved over the past three decades. Some are extremely worried or sceptical of what would happen if the leaders continue to turn a blind eye to the domestic problems we have. But few of them think about our roots, our values and tradition. Understandably, this could be somewhat difficult for many of those currently at the helms because our heritage was almost extinct during the devastating disruption some 40 years ago. More importantly, the heritage that we know of today is mostly the legacy of Ming and Qing dynasties, arguably the most culturally corrupt periods in Chinese history. So much of our culture and heritage had been distorted and misinterpreted during the six centuries of Ming and Qing reigns. Compared with the highly intellectual and sophisticated Song Dynasty, Ming and Qing were embarrassingly deficient in imperial China.

Without a solid knowledge of where we come from and what our roots are, we easily become confused and puzzled. The voice of tradition seems too weak and remote to drive us ahead. Even the much-touted restoration of Han Chinese costumes has yet to become truly influential due to the inability to articulate the basics embraced by the nitty-gritty details of the extravagant costumes. Even more regrettably, few seem to read classics nowadays. Many of those who do are either dependent on second-hand interpretations or adopt a utilitarian point of view to identify bits and pieces to support their personal agenda. These arbitrary actions often misplace our tradition out of context and result in nothing but more confusion and puzzlement, leading us farther away from where we come from.

This is why I find Mr Obama's speech a timely reminder not just for the Americans and many others around the world who have been blinded by short-term economic gains, but also for my fellow citizens who have long lost sight of our valuable tradition and heritage. As we can see in the United States, a cultural paradigm shift starting with the return to our basics is the only way we can sustain our success and avoid repeating the mistakes we had.

The Power of Warm Indifference

I watched the much-awaited The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on the first day of its screening in Hong Kong. I knew it was going to be a good one, but I was still surprised.

What a good surprise.

The duration of 166 minutes can be a deterrent to many, but the film is surprisingly well-structured in the plot and smooth in the story-telling. I didn't even bother to take a glance at my watch to check how much time has lapsed.

Brad Pitt did a great job playing Benjamin Button, and so did the rest of the cast. Taraji P. Henson (Queenie), Jared Harris (Captain Mike) and Tilda Swinton (Elizabeth) all deserve a great credit for their remarkable performance.

Who surprised me most, however, was Cate Blanchett. Like what her character Daisy said in the film, it's all about lines. To me, lines are not just important for a dancer, but also for an actress (or actor). The lines of her face, her nose, her mouth and her lips were strikingly appealing to me that I couldn't help waiting eagerly for her to appear and starring at her when she does, even though when her character became old and lying very ill on the bed. I wonder why she didn't receive any nominations for her minimal and yet profound portrayal of Daisy in the film. Perhaps it is still great, but not great enough to impress anyone who has seen her masterpieces of Queen Elizabeth and The Golden Age, among many others.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is also a story incredibly well told in lines. Nothing is over-done or under. The warmth, calmness and sadness are carefully maintained through an organic synergy of photography and music until the very last second of the film. Although Benjamin is telling his own story in the voice over, he sounds like he is telling someone else's story in a calm manner with some sad and as-a-matter-of-fact overtones. This is the kind of what I would call "warm indifference" that I enjoy most in films and drama. This is a long-lost tradition of Chinese literary works that had served as the basic benchmark for composition and criticism. With this warm indifference, so many emotions can be delivered beyond the words, slowly and yet compellingly and enduringly.

I can't even remember how long ago it was when I came across another comparable piece of work. The film is sad and touching, and yet thought-provoking.

We all know time can never go backwards, and so does our life. Everything happens in a mysteriously programmed sequence that we have no control of. Trying to explain why the sequence works as it is has been the daunting task of countless religious and philosophical thinkers over the centuries. What touches me most is not how Queenie insists to adopt the weird-looking baby Benjamin with his "reversed" sequence of life, but the coincidental and programmed intersections where different people come across with each other during the course of their life.

Even if the right people meet at the right time, there is no guarantee that they will stay together as long as they want. People come and go, and so does life. Nothing lasts, even though we desperately hope something do, especially when we have become so much accustomed to the companionship of our loved ones. What we can do is to enjoy every moment of our existence and relationships, because when bodies decay and memories fail, there is nothing else we can hold on to. Writings are nothing but the artefacts for the mourning of later generations, upon which eternity survives.

Benjamin's life isn't really reversed, so to speak. It's just different. He still goes through the same stages of life as everyone else does. He is different only because he was born old and died young as an infant. This unusual difference, however, defines his life and sad story. I refrain from using the word "tragedy" simply because he enjoys much more love than the ordinary person, from his mother who adopts him, Daisy and others. Compared with an ordinary man, he might have come across too many deaths in his life. It simply outnumbers what an ordinary man can possibly deal with. He was born at the expense of his mother, and he was abandoned at an elderly home where people come and go more frequently than anywhere else. But what he receives in compensation is also quite generous, at least from the people who truly love him from their hearts.

The difference that Benjamin involuntarily has also explains why I was struck by an overwhelming wave of grief seeing the aging Daisy holding Benjamin's hands and teach him, then a toddler, to walk, and cradling the baby Benjamin in her arms when he closed his eyes forever. Many years ago I came to know that it is a privilege to grow old together with one's partner and companions, but it is still irresistibly sad to witness the contrary, especially when it is so gently and yet profoundly presented.

All those buzz about awards aside, this film shall be remembered for its power of warm indifference in touching the human heart and reflections on life and death.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009









Sunday, 18 January 2009

Staying Afresh

Since the New Year began I have been stressed out by hectic work schedules and enormous pressure to stay sharp and alert, and of course awake. Too many things caught me by surprise that I found myself almost drowned in the tides of work. The more the work dumped on me, the more restless and impatient I became as my personal time shrank to almost zero. Not to mention the regretful skips of my Korean class and the absence of revisions. Restlessness has become so irresistible that I feel myself on the brink of killing anyone I come across on the street any time.

Thank God that I could finally jog for a while and practise two sessions of tai chi in a row over this weekend. Working out is certainly the most effective way of keeping me afresh. But time has become so much of a privilege that I can't do as much as I want to. And this weekend I noticed how much my physical condition has dropped for skipping proper workout and tai chi class for two weekends. Last week my body issued so many warnings that I can no longer ignore them. Fatigue struck me so hard that I almost felt like four and a half years ago when I got Hepatitis A. I just don't want to give any chance for the nightmare to haunt me once again.

While working out is addictively fun and refreshing, there is a strong voice inside me that I need something more than physiological satisfaction. Since Christmas, I haven't been able to sit quietly in my haven to read and write for a meaningful period of time. My plan to study the history of Song Dynasty has been deferred involuntarily to an infinite. Only my bookshelves are rewarded by my conscious efforts to buy a large collection of history books last year. Not to forget my Korean learning reaching a new level that requires much more attention and study time. I don't know what to do with these plans, simply because my schedule is often out of my control. I can only keep these plans afresh in my mind from time to time, but again these may drive me nuts and restless when so much is being dumped on me.

I don't know if the recent happenings indicate some sort of hints or reminders for a change. And I really don't know what kind of change I should opt for. But I do hope everything will start afresh with a much better balance of life and work with the Chinese New Year. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

My New Year Wish

I never thought the New Year started with so many unpredictable and unforeseen happenings that have been dragging my feet over the past two weeks.

I felt like a steel statue melting inches by inches, like the Happy Prince of Oscar Wilde. I get nervous or stressed out so easily these days that I can't even sleep well. Despite the long-awaited chill, I wake up early in the morning before dawn when the alarm clock rings.

The absence of quality sleep, along with the lack of spiritual cultivation over the last couple of months, simply drives me crazy. I feel my brain power and self-control draining out fast like a drop of water in the desert. My soul is even drier than the skin of a mummy.

Colleagues keep teasing me with pitiful and empathetic tones. I know they didn't mean to be rude, but I just can't help feeling angry and annoyed. I am just too fed up with those babbles that are by no means funny. I mean, it is never funny if you become a laughing stock or an object for sympathy.

those occasions which I don't really want to remember, this is the first time over the past five years or so that the idea of a move has ever popped up in my mind. This may not be a good time, but I will certainly devote myself full time to pursue my second dream if I got the first prize of Mark Six tomorrow.

But I'm not sure if I still have the privilege of going to the betting centre to buy a ticket.

Monday, 5 January 2009