Wednesday, December 31, 2014

(2014) Days of Summer

You could chuck a truckload of walking sticks into a swirling vortex and it still wouldn't be the hurricane of life that was 2014. So here's the annual thing where I scrape together ten of the marginally more enjoyable things I can remember for the year until 2015 sucker-punches me in the gut. Again.

1. Improv is Newsworthy!
Big props to Aly and the rest of the Public Affairs team, who got the Improv Comedy Conglomerate featured in the Straits Times! Dylan was basically doing his stupid Dylan things while the cameraman was taking test shots, and it ended up being used as the leading photo of the article. It's my first time appearing in a newspaper, and probably my last, unless I get arrested for doing something incredibly stupid.

2. 14th March 2014
My birthday has never been a big thing for me, but this year my Yale-NUS friends really pulled out all the stops and I had the best birthday I've ever had. Between dragging me out for Japanese dinner for the pretext to a YNC Common Lounge Ambush, to Karen's Everything video and then forcing me to sing it in the dining hall, I don't think Stockholm Syndrome has ever been a viable celebratory theme until that day. And I think you again for a wonderful evening, that I will never forget.

3. Summer Programme in Japan
I've never stayed in another country longer than three weeks before (this being Orientation at Yale) and once again YNC giving me the opportunity to see the world; this time for five weeks in Tokyo, Japan for another brilliant summer experience. I've loved living in Japan; the notion of just walking to a konbini and having onigiri is one of life's most beautiful and exquisite experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed my course as well; Prof Seth Jacobowitz was a really great professor and a really cool and funny guy to hang out with (sometimes too literally, eh, Xim?). I even got to travel to Hiroshima to visit the host family I stayed with two years ago; my Japanese family on the other side of the world. From living the Tokyo subway commute to buying plastic transparent umbrellas, Tokyo will always be my second home.

4. Orientation and Ghettopotamia
So I signed up to be an Orientation Group Leader this year again, without knowing what I'd get myself into. It was very different, running around Singapore with juniors instead of your classmates; but it was great fun and I'm very proud of my Ishstars. But I think the best thing that happened was getting closer with the rest of the RC3 OGLs: Ami, Bryant and Mel, who have been some of my closest friends during the dark and difficult past semester. And we put on a great opening act for RC3 - I honestly couldn't have asked for more perfect teammates. Ghettopotamia 4 Lyfe.

5. The Penang Boys
I'm really grateful to be travelling to places that I've never been before, and when I was jioed to follow Dylan, Josh and John Reid to Penang for a couple of days, I hastily agreed. I finally fulfilled my life dream of eating Penang Char Kway Teow in Penang, and we had a blast wandering around the island over four days; climbing stupidly-steep hills, strolling down jetties, and best of all, EATING. And I never once got food poisoning or anything, despite all the warnings my parents kept giving me.

6. The Improv Shows: Opening Act, EYWs; The Kumar Show; The DF Farewell; and Build-A-Show: Act Two, Brutus 
Looking back, I realised we had SO MANY shows this year. Our first show, Opening Act, was a brilliant hit, selling out almost immediately and even having people cram in the back. We performed for all the EYWs as well, and I'd like to think that we contributed to a lot of the intake this year (although the Egyptian girl didn't come after we did the Arabic Foreign Film Dub... oh well). Opening for the Kumar show was also a nerve-wrecking experience; not only because we were opening for a pretty well-known local comedian, but also because we were collaborating with the NUS Improvables, who are pretty damn awesome - we even started going to their shows to see them in action. We also had a crazy fun show for the DF Farewell; somehow all 12 DFs managed to squeeze in some time in their packed schedules to come for rehearsals and put on the very first all-DF show for the very first year of Yale-NUS students - a very happy and also very teary occasion. Finally, after a new-and-improved workshop schedule this semester, our new blood put on a damn good show for their first-ever improv show. It's been a pretty good year for improv, and it's only going to get better!

7. Yale-NUS Goes to Langkawi
Oh man travelling is awesome. I've (probably) decided not to take a science major, so the Yale-NUS Common Curriculum Foundations of Science class had a weekend field trip to Langkawi, which honestly was one of the highlights of the entire curriculum. It's so brilliant to just go to a tropical island and learn science. From beach treks to learn about changing sea levels to mangrove cruises with live snake-skin, to visiting an actual observatory and night-time hikes in search for nocturnal creatures, the Langkawi field trip was absolutely awesome and I loved every minute of it.

8. Escape Rooms
I like a good puzzle, and because of Dylan I've been introduced to the wonderful world of Escape Rooms, where you take an hour to break out of a room by solving the puzzles therein. I must have gone to about six or seven rooms this year, and they've all been a blast; I think the best one is still the Magician's Secret, with actually challenging puzzles and a brilliant atmosphere, especially the corridor with nothing but mirrors. My success rate is currently hovering around fifty percent, and it's been pretty fun so far; hopefully the companies refresh their rooms for the coming year so there's a new challenge waiting!

9. Cards Against Humanity
So exams are over and I've been invited to play Cards Against Humanity for the first time, and I swear I couldn't have had a more perfect initiation, with Matt Bolden, Passport, Min, Jolanda, Aaron and Abel. That was honestly the happiest I'd been the entire semester, a full four-hour laugh session with such brilliant responses as "Stockholm Syndrome" and "Incest"; and "Pedophiles. The art of seduction. The Pope." taking the award for the most serendipitous haiku ever. Thanks so much for the laughter, guys.

10. The Phantom Six takes on Lijiang Yunnan
One last stop on the itinerary this year: Josh, Theo, Hui Ran, Tiff and I travelled to Hong Kong and Yunnan for a lot of nature, exploration, horse-riding, band album cover photoshoots, giant Tiger Leaping Gorges, Wang Leehom music with a really damn cool driver, Chinese K-Box, delicious Tibetan potato chips, snow, food poisoning, and yak meat! It was a really wonderful experience, except for the food poisoning, and it's great fun scientifically categorizing Hui Ran's laughter.

The Year in Entertainment

Anime: Psycho-Pass
I didn't get the chance to watch a lot of anime this year, but I do have a lot of praise for Psycho-Pass, a brilliant dystopian thriller with a generous helping of philosophical intrigue to keep your blood pumping and brain racing.

Books: Nation by Terry Pratchett, Shame by Salman Rushdie, Y: The Last Man by Vertigo Comics; Justice League: Generation Lost by DC Comics
I've been re-reading a lot of Terry Pratchett books this year so I don't have many new things to say, except that his latest book Raising Steam has nothing on the earlier Moist von Lipwig novels. I re-read Nation and it is every bit as good as when I first read it, perhaps better; I urge anybody and everybody to read this book, no matter who or what. One of the other books I really enjoyed this year was Salman Rushdie's Shame, which, though it annoyed me with the post-colonial message and convoluted plot, delighted me with the writing style and the way Rushie plays with words in the way only someone who loves the English language can. Dylan lent me Y: The Last Man, and I have to say it is one of the absolute best comics I can and will suggest to anyone, alongside Invincible and Fables. Never has feminist topics and gender theory and, ultimately, human nature, been framed in such an interesting and literary medium, and I am privileged to have been bequeathed this brilliant piece of literature. Finally, Justice League: Generation Lost was such a great series with such a great story; I always love reading about teams more than individual heroes, and these books did not disappoint.

Games: Bioshock, Bioshock 2, Bioshock: Infinite; Patapon; Evil Genius; Overwatch (Trailer)
I bought the Bioshock 3-pack a while ago, and finally managed to play through the first game, which was bloody effing brilliant. I've never seen the railroad nature of video games being taken and hybridized with philosophy, and Rapture's promises of an objectivist utopia which culminates in what is arguably the best line in a video game ("A man chooses, a slave obeys.") has been the best roller-coaster ride a video game has taken me on ever since Final Fantasy VIII. Bioshock 2 is also pretty brilliant, and I'm loving the new combat system; the storyline was also pretty good but seemed a lot shorter. I'm like 80% through Bioshock: Infinite, and I'm loving the awesome mechanics and the thrilling rides on the Skyline, and Elizabeth's Tears mechanic really makes things very, very interesting. I also managed to get Patapon working on my system, and it's been a game I've always wanted to play, and it's pretty fun although I don't know why I keep dropping the rhythm. I also managed to finally get Evil Genius, which is a pretty fun and hilarious game; I've had a lot of fun designing evil lairs and interrogating agents. Finally, Blizzard announced their new FPS-MOBA hybrid Overwatch and even though I've not played it yet, it looks freaking amazing and I'm really hyped to play it, assuming I get accepted into the beta.

Movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, Fight Club, Her, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Lego Movie, The Hunger Games, Monty Python's Life of Brian, Interstellar, The Maze Runner
I've watched a few really good movies this year. The Winter Soldier was a brilliant piece of superhero cinema, and I think my favourite character was Josh Whedon's take on Arnim Zola, who in the comics was an android with his face broadcast onto a screen on his chest; the movie did that homage so bloody well. For me, Guardians of the Galaxy was a pretty okay movie; it was extremely enjoyable but nothing outstanding. Big Hero 6 was a lot of fun, and it's great to see Pixar make another superhero movie (it says Disney on the poster, but it's obviously Pixar animation, anyone can see that). I finally watched Fight Club this year too, and it's a bloody brilliant piece of cinema; even though I knew the spoiler, I was still fascinated and wondering how the whole thing would play out. I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on the plane to Japan, and it was really nice; I never expected the ending, and I found that I really liked it. I also appreciate they played David Bowie's Space Oddity; that song has so much new meaning after Commander Chris Hadfield sang it aboard the International Space Station. I also watched The Lego Movie, which was funny, but I was more impressed at the fact that someone had to build all the stuff out of Lego for the film. I also watched The Hunger Games on the plane back from Japan, and it didn't really stand out much for me; a lot of the political message was watered down in the film. I think I preferred the book. I finally watched Monty Python's Life of Brian, which is the brilliant piece of satire I've always heard it was, and now I really understand the meaning and significance of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. I watched The Maze Runner, and I found I really enjoyed it; shame it had to end on a cliffhanger, but now I'm interested to see the next installment. Finally, Interstellar was a Nolan masterpiece; few movies can cause me to cry but I cried so hard.

TV Shows: Liar Game; The Newsroom
I've just the season finale left for Liar Game, and it's been a pretty interesting show, even though the main female protagonist is kind of annoying. It's pretty interesting to see how Akiyama is always three steps ahead and knows how to play the rules. The other TV series I've watched this year is Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, and bloody hell it's been a crazy roller coaster ride. It's smart, funny, witty, and it's fighting against the misinformation and stupidity in the media. What's not to like? Plus Olivia Munn is so freaking hot oh my god.

Music: Weird Al Yankovic's Mandatory Fun; Postmodern Jukebox; Owl City's The Midsummer Station and Ultraviolet EP; Jay Chou's "Extra Large Shoes"; Wagakki's "Spinal Fluid Explosion Girl" and "Senbonzakura"; Hunter Hayes's "Everybody's Got Somebody But Me"; Passenger's All the Little Lights
After Chris introduced me to Passenger, I've loved most of the songs on his All the Little Lights album, especially "Patient Love", "The Wrong Direction", "All the Little Lights", "Keep on Walking" and "Life's for the Living". Weird Al's new album came out this year, and while there are a few songs that aren't really my taste, Weird Al's still got his thing and it's still relevant and brilliant. Postmodern Jukebox does vintage-style covers of modern pop songs, and they're brilliant. Owl City's latest album is also pretty good; it's got his usual wordplay and upbeat-ness, but there's also a lot of sadness hidden within. After hearing Jay Chou's "Extra Large Shoes" in China I can't get it out of my head; it's been playing on repeat for a while now. Also, Xim introduced me to Wakkagi Band after Japan, and their take on the Hatsune Miku song "Spinal Fluid Explosion Girl" is still giving me chills. The music video for "Senbonzakura" is also a masterpiece; you see a girl playing an electric sanshin. Finally, I happened to discover Hunter Hayes's "Everybody's Got Somebody But Me", which really describes the last semester, but it's still funny and fun I guess that's sorta like me.


Alright 2015, give me your best shot.
The Edna Man

Wednesday, December 03, 2014


 26 September, 2014

You almost got everything right.

You were right about the acting. A certain comedian called Robin Williams figured it out long ago: a grimace can be a grin if it has a good PR department. Let me tell you something: some time back, way before all this, I was in love. I thought that our love would overcome everything. Amor vincit omnia. I turned out to be wrong. At some point along the way, I developed the delusion that laughter equals love and I abused it like a drug. Every snicker, every giggle, every chuckle, was a quiet affirmation of my existence: This person wouldn't be laughing if I wasn't here. I must be important. The thing about the stage? Every time you put on that mask, you get to be the person you don't have the guts to be when you're off. You get to be the person that people love, that people cheer on, that people want. For a brief, narcotic moment, you can feel like you're wanted. And then I found the courage to love again, to yearn for another human being who love in return is a thousand, a million, a billion audiences. I found the courage to trust in humanity, to believe that maybe this time, amor will really vincit omnia. I turned out to be wrong, again. Two points make a hypothesis; I'm not looking for the third to prove the theory. Now the drugs don't work, because the trick isn't magical when you can see the trapdoor.

You were right about the black hole. It's funny you used that metaphor, because another name for a black hole is a singularity. Nothing but an infinitesimally small, infinitesimally dense bit of matter, spinning around and around itself, letting things in but not letting things out, drifting along through the universe and ripping apart anything and everything it comes into contact with. Like I said, an apt metaphor. But if a black hole could think. If a black hole and an endocrine system and a hypothalamus and glands and emotions and higher-order thought. If a black hole could think and feel. Would it keep wandering through the cosmos, tearing apart all that is bright and stellar and stable? Or would it drift to its own corner of the universe, afraid at its own destructive power, and keep away from all other matters in fear of hurting them.

You were right about the conviction. You believe that you are right, and you are sure because nothing could have convinced me that I was wrong. The funny thing about the human mind is that, for some reason, it has to know its place in existence. Throughout history, we have been telling ourselves stories: we used to tell ourselves stories about gods; now we tell ourselves stories about atoms. We tell ourselves stories to reassure our brain that it knows where it is, because that is how we understand the world. But there is a difference between drawing yourself on a map, and drawing a map around yourself. We all tell ourselves stories; even this story I am telling myself is a story. I know that there is no way of getting out of that. But there are no answers to be had here. So I'm going somewhere where there are.

You almost got everything right. But you got two things wrong. One, you said I didn't leave behind a long letter. And two, you can't get guns in this country. But I do live on the seventeenth floor, and the windows have no grilles.

Monday, December 01, 2014


There is a scene in Interstellar where Cooper returns to the ship after spending a few hours on a planet in a high gravitational field. Because of gravitational time dilation, the few hours he spent on the planet corresponded to twenty-three years of Earth time. He returns to the ship to to find twenty-three years of video messages waiting for him from his children, who he is longing to get back to. Twenty-three years of life, gone in an instant, watching the people he loved grow and change and live.

I cried at that scene. I rarely cry in movies but I cried at that scene. Not because of the love he had for his children; not because he knew that he had missed all the important things in their lives. But because he had to watch from outside, and know that he could never be a part of it.