Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Mutated World

I was recently in a movie marathon and watched three movies back to back namely “Body of Lies”, “Eagle Eye” and “Saw V”. My ratings in a nutshell out of 10 are 7/8/5 respectively.

But how the movies fared in the eyes of this critic is not the topic today. If you are an avid movie-goer like I am, you will notice that many movies nowadays revolve around the topic of terrorism and war. The concept of terrorism has been around for ages but it did not hit me (as well as a huge part of the world) till 9/11.

It was during my 6-month student exchange programme at University of New South Wales in Sydney when 9/11 happened. I was one of the few who had personal TVs in their hostel rooms. I think I was watching “The Simpsons” or some other early evening show when my goggle-boxical fix was interrupted by a special news bulletin. At first I felt a little strange and could not really believe my eyes as the scenes on TV were even more spectacular than a disaster movie. Then more and more people crammed into my room to watch as the events unfolded (2nd plane crash, 1st, 2nd tower collapse, etc). Slowly the gravity of the situation kicked in. My eyes stayed glued to the TV till the wee hours of the night and for weeks after that the news was my favourite TV show as it was filled with exciting 9/11 reports and the American war on terrorism.

I visited Ground Zero several times when I was working in New Jersey a few years after 9/11 and it did not do much for me then. It greeted me with a very touristy feeling and despite the crowds, the site gave me nothing other than coldness. Now 7 years have flown by and the world’s obsession of 9/11 has ebbed. I always feel that the true measure of when the world has gotten over a tragic international event is when Hollywood is allowed to make money out of it. And it has -- in buckets.

“Body of Lies” and “Eagle Eye” both played on terrorism albeit with a different type of enemy. I have also since 9/11 watched a lot of documentaries about 9/11 conspiracies and how companies profit from war with all of these shows lined with potent anti-Bush sentiments. Now that his terror regime is close to being over, the world can hopefully breathe a sigh of relief. Only when we cut out the fuel to a fire can it be put out totally and only then can lives affected by terrorism really start on their roads to normalcy.

Before you start to think of me as a political person, let me stop you because I am not but I did get stirred up by the media (a very powerful agent not to be underestimated) when I was living in the States during the 2004 election season. I even stayed through the night to watch the election coverage on TV which of course culminated in extremely disappointing results. Perhaps it was because for the first time, there was actual election competition that I could see with my own eyes and not only the show they call “election” put up by the Singapore media for its citizens.

This is one of the most insidious long-lasting side-effects of living in Singapore. It lulls you into thinking that everything is all right. The media is full of rosy nation-building reports on Singapore’s GDP growth, the new train line, some stupid campaigns and what have you. All reports of anything bad (eg. fatalities during army training, reasons for Mas Selamat’s escape, one of the most severe investment flops a.k.a. Suzhou Industrial Park, etc) are censored (I know this because I have friends working in the news office). The only bad reports that choke the TV screens and airwaves are from other countries (wars, famines, executions, terrorism, diseases, etc). The scary thing is that people living in Singapore do not realize this at all until they have moved out and seen the world. Maybe ignorance is bliss but I always want full knowledge and demand full disclosure because that is what I expect other people to want and demand from me as well. I can go on and on with this but I will reserve my salvos for a future post in which I will show you a video detailing the lies the Singapore government has fed its people over the years.

As you all know, I write my own songs and they are usually of boring themes like love and love and love (well you get the picture). But living in the States had created a heightened sense of anti-apathy towards world events and politics that finally had a chance to flourish out of the darkness of the Singapore sun. It was then when I started to write songs of a different nature. Songs about the world, gay activism, religion – things that basically will not sell in the market (well at least the Asian market) unless you are as famous as Elton John (or Jay Chou). I surprised myself at how well I could articulate thoughts and experiences that could not be further from my life of comfort and familiarity. Perhaps I am a natural-born artist (haha) but rather it was because I finally broke free of the chains wrapped around my brain that many Singaporeans drag along in their heads. Now that I am living out of Singapore permanently (and not just one and a half years like I was in the States), who knows how much of an activist will take control of me in the coming years. All I know is that I would rather this than suffocating in the mirky depths of we-are-number-one-in-the-world-and-we-do-not-need-to-improve-or-entertain-any-suggestions-or-advice hubris I was living in before.

Enough bitching from me for the day. Now I would like to share with you a song (in the form of a DIY-MTV, along with its lyrics and English translation) I wrote after the terrorist siege of School Number One in the town of Beslan in the Russian Federation when a group of armed rebels, demanding an end to the Second Chechen War, took more than 1,100 people (including some 777 children) hostage on 1st September 2004 for three days. The siege ended in heavy gunfire when Russian security forces stormed the building using tanks and heavy weapons. The tragic event ultimately killed at least 334 hostages, including 186 children with hundreds more wounded or reported missing.

Would I have written such a song if I were living in Singapore then? Most likely not. I am proud of this song because it showed me that I could still feel for others so different from myself, that I am not an apathetical zombie unaware of how hopelessly one could be incarcerated by his comfort zone.

So are you a zombie?








[A Mutated World]

The afternoon swings hear no laughter
There is not a single soul in the cafeteria
Innocence is lost on the young faces
As questions fill their heads

What happens after midnight at Cinderella’s ball?
Why are you crying teacher?
Who is this person beside me?

The eyes of childhood should never see this mutated world
How much blood must be spilt in order to trade war with peace?
How can they understand the complex concept of terrorism?
Do you think you will lose less than what you win this round?

The eyes of childhood should never see this mutated world
How much blood must be spilt in order to trade war with peace?
How can they understand the complex concept of terrorism?
Do you think you will lose less than what you win this round?

After the encounter of nightmare finally comes dawn
But fear still lingers in their tiny hearts
They are growing up in this world
How can you sleep at ease tonight?

The eyes of childhood should never see this mutated world
How much blood must be spilt in order to trade war with peace?
How can they understand the complex concept of terrorism?
Do you think you will lose less than what you win this round?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Gay Sydney

All right. Ision and I have been trying to look for a bigger apartment for some time now (although not enthusiastically) and I must tell you the rental situation in Sydney is a stone’s throw away from desperation. It is highly competitive as everyone wants to stay in this prime district (“prime” here being like Newton in Singapore) and there really are not that many nice apartments to go around. So instead of fretting over it (which I most certainly end up doing most of the time), we have decided to take our time and let the perfect apartment present itself to us (a.k.a “what’s meant to be will be”) since we are not really in a hurry to move given that we currently have a prime-district roof over our heads (and not about to lose it for a sub-standard patch).

But when it seemed that we had to continue living in that poorly-ventilated studio apartment for some time more, an innocent-looking apartment came up for inspection. Without much hope, we went for it and even lodged an application. I guess good things come to those who wait – the person who was offered that place originally did not pay the deposit in time and we simply swooped in to bag that 1-bedroom apartment! It is not all that bigger in terms of floor space compared to our current studio but it is much better ventilated and lit. It also has a lot of storage space and very high ceilings (which makes the whole place look more spacious than it is). All in all, it is like an immaculate piece of canvas finally ready for me to start painting one of the biggest and most important dreams of my life. And with my partner there beside me while I paint, what more could a man ask for in life? It is going to be such a great adventure sprucing the whole place up to perfection! Friends and family, when you come and visit next year, everything will be ready for your viewing and living pleasure!

With this piece of good news followed days of notably better mood. Ision and I are quibbling less and we are more loving towards one another as well. You see, when two people live in such close proximity day in and day out, all relationship experts would recommend the concept of “personal space”. Intensely dependent relationships burn out really fast and this can be prevented by both parties still being individuals despite being in a loving and committed relationship. I have left 29 years of my accumulated support system back in Singapore and I know that I must form new systems outside of Ision’s in order to adjust well into this new landscape, both space-wise and life-wise. My grand plan had “settling down” as top priority and so “making new friends” naturally took a backseat. But I failed to realise that part of settling down is actually making new friends and with that recent realisation, a new goal was set.

And everyone who knows me well will know that once I set myself a goal, I will go to the extreme to try to achieve it or at least give it a good kick-start. Some time back, I went online to source out Sydney gay support and social groups that I could dip my head into. I did not have to try very hard before managing to locate a few and then I started making contact (all within a single day) and attending their events over a few weeks. Here is a brief rundown of the events that I have attended thus far, the people I have met and my impression of everything.

Sydney Gay Freethinkers

At first I thought this was a religion-based group (or rather anti-religion-based) but it is actually a group of people getting together to discuss a wide range of issues aimed at promoting free-thinking (ie. outside the box). This is the first event that I have attended and it takes place every Monday evening at ACON (AIDS Council of New South Wales) near Oxford Street. I arrived very early and was a little worried that there was only going to be the four people that were present then. The run-down setting of that place (typical of AIDS centres) was not exactly that inviting as well but more people came in over time and at the end of the session, there were twelve of us. The demographic was 40 and above and I was the only young-ish person around (and the only Asian). To be honest, many of the attendees were quite scary to me in the beginning (appearance, dressing and mannerism) but as the discussions started, I felt much better as it was the environment that I love to be in – one of intellectual discourse.

We were each told to come up with topics to discuss and two of the suggested topics were selected in the end namely “if you have a choice to be gay or straight, what would you choose?” and “how did and will the Internet change the gay community?” with the former being my suggested topic. I felt invigorated to be sharing and articulating my arguments and thoughts in the strangely relaxing social environment. There was a coffee- and nibblies-break in the middle and we had to contribute a token amount for next week’s snacks. At the end of the night, some of them told me how they would love to see me in the group again (I guess many people might have historically just come and gone after a single session for various reasons) and I responded that I would be there next week. I am not sure if I have impressed them with my ideas and intelligence or because they sorely needed diversity in their group but nevertheless it was nice to feel wanted and welcomed. So I went home that night with one main lesson re-learnt, that is to never judge a book by its cover. Also the night affirmed my passion for intellectual discussions and most importantly gave me a social avenue to be with other people outside of my relationship. I genuinely felt more adjusted than before (simply after a night out socializing!) and this has made me become an advocate of “personal space” (as one of the more important elements in relationship-building).

Asian Project: Connect

This gathering takes place every first Thursday of the month and it aims at bringing Asians and non-Asian gays together to discuss general issues that concern the community. It takes place at exactly the same location as the Freethinkers gathering – that run-down and slightly depressing place.

I arrived much too early as usual and ended up waiting in the lobby with the others. I was expecting the group to consist of older folks like what I saw with the Freethinkers but I was pleasantly surprised. The demographic was generally 35 and below and there were people from Indonesia, Hong Kong, China, Brazil (!) and Japan. The facilitator was a confident, very presentable and friendly young Chinese undergraduate which in my opinion plays a very big part in the success or failure in such gatherings. The night started with a break-the-ice session of self-introduction and one-minute quick-fire one-on-one discussions on various topics with different people. That intro session was a little lame to me but an open mind is what you should bring along to such events, otherwise you will not enjoy yourself. The topic that night was “Am I Boyfriend Material?” and we had to first do a questionnaire on how we are as lovers which then led to a discussion of our answers. Typically talkative as I am, I found that I was sharing the most but I was also conscious that I must give others a chance to talk so I kept my silence when it was necessary. It was all pretty standard discussion and there was a break in the middle when we could mingle. I found everyone very approachable and that that there was a good mix (only 3 Caucasians though). I will most definitely go for this session repeatedly. There is another Asians-only session every third Thursday of the month called “Asian Tea Room”. Ision doesn’t like these exclusive sessions because he feels that the concept is too discriminatory. I actually fed this back to the facilitator and he said looking at it on the surface, it seems rather hypocritical indeed since ACON purports its anti-racism stance whilst in the same breath conducts Asians-only sessions. But he said Asians need their own space much like gays away from the heteros. Although I understood everything he said but I do not agree with him because I have not really felt discrimination as an Asian in a Western country (or maybe it has always been too subtle for me to pick up).

After the session, a portion of the group went to a nearby Thai restaurant where we socialised and mingled for a while longer. This really made me feel at home – it was as if I was back at those weekend gay gatherings all over again and it filled me with much-needed warmth and familiarity. It is just too bad that this does not occur more frequently. On the other hand, it gives me something to anticipate to so it is not all that bad. Throughout the session, I billed myself as a happily-attached person because it is typical that people attending such events are trying to use the opportunity to change their single status otherwise and from my experience that night, I think I am right to assume so. What that led to (rather unexpectedly) was them asking me to share tips and advice on relationships and this made me feel nice albeit a little anxious of the things that should come out of my mouth in future sessions. But rest assured that I will be there for every single one of them because it is the kind of environment that I sorely need.

Gay Nude Buddies

Yes, I am a nudist and in my opinion, there are many nudists out there, closetted or otherwise and unaware of nudist activities or otherwise. And the rest of the people are just looking at it with a closed or wrong mind and thus are not willing to participate. Someone in Singapore told me he was not a nudist because he has a sense of modesty. Embarrassed about his body? Maybe. Inferiority complex? Maybe. Other than that, I totally did not (and still do not) understand what he meant. Naturism has always been so natural (duh!) to me ever since I overcame my physical self-esteem issues and it is now so second-nature to me that I feel everyone in this world is or at least should be a naturist. Anyway this nudist group was one of the gay social groups I contacted and before registering me for the event, I had to give the organiser my particulars as well as a picture of myself – not unusual as he needed to know whether I was serious about it or not. By the way, these nudist gatherings are non-sexual at all and this needs to be stressed to the masses – a true naturist event is supposed to be non-sexual!

The event was a dance party in the outskirts of the city located in a rehearsal studio at the end of a dark street of an industrial part of the suburb (so you can understand why the walk from the train station was rather scary). But as soon as I entered the dim-lit room with disco lights and soft dance music, I knew I was going to be right at home. I am not sure if everyone liked the soft lighting – maybe they did not want to let others see their physical flaws so obviously but I would have preferred it to be brighter. So I started mingling and talking (all pretty much the standard small talk kind of thing) whilst all the time at the back of my mind I was wondering how there could be a dance party in that setting (with not many people, a poor sound system and not exactly dancey music). I would have enjoyed their previous gatherings more eg. dinner at a restaurant and outdoor activities. I guess I would have to wait till next month for a different event.

Then a discussion about size (of you know what!) started and five of us in a circle started sizing one another up. People started becoming tactile in their discussion and my tool was not spared (although I did not involve myself in any use of my sense of touch). As expected, I had the best body of that night so I must have created certain desires in people. Granted that it was a non-sexual occasion, men (gay or not) just cannot help it in such a situation especially when there will not be any molestation charges attached to the end of the deal (so common in the straight world – sad). Picture naked straight men in the locker room towel-whipping one another or straight football players giving each other encouraging pats on the butt or even in school/the army where a group of pranksters force-strip someone in the spirit of fun – it is just what sexual men do (no matter how non-sexual they are trying to appear or view the act as). It is just that whilst the men in the heterosexual domain have to hide this desire, the other half of the domain does not need to. Thank goodness for that! By the way, all of them in the circle had huge (uncut) endowments (even before they got into the “awoken” state) and it was all so beautiful. I had to control myself not to cop a feel and it was (pardon the pun) hard.

There was a couple there that night and they were quite into each other. I am sure they were the objects of envy of most of the people there (including me) not because they are attached but because both of them are nudists and can indulge in naturism together. It is very common that only one partner in a relationship is into it (this depressingly applies to fetishes too) and the person attending nudist events without his partner normally feels a little sad that his partner is not there with him and the one left at home cannot help but be a little jealous that his other half is naked with other men. Having a partner with the same interest eradicates these negative feelings and it makes things so much easier and better.

As the night progressed, the music became louder and people started dancing. Two people (not sure if they were in a relationship) broke from the rest and went to lie together in a corner whispering sweet nothings to one another (one of them was a very cute Asian). I had a game of pool, ate some snacks and had a drink. All this while I was taking quick glances at the clock like Cinderella because I had to leave in time to catch the last train home. That really sucked because I could not really enjoy myself as a result. When the clock struck 11.30, it was time for my exit. I bade farewell to the organiser and some of the others with the promise that I will attend the next event. And I most certainly will!

There, all my recent weeks of socialising summarized in a hopefully not-too-long post. Interesting? I will leave it up to you to decide but it sure beats not doing anything to make more friends. All it takes is the first step and then everything else will move into place. Life is seriously getting better for me now – maybe it is really true that life begins at 30!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

30 today

Happy birthday to me!

Spending some quality time with my bibi today (a picnic in the park) and we are going to Bondi Beach tomorrow.

Thanks guys and gals for all your kind wishes! Right back at cha!